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Hail to thee, blithe spirit!

Special Correpondent


Galle: It is not often that a cricketer is applauded as he enters the hall for a press conference.

Muttiah Muralitharan was accorded that honour before he addressed the media for the last time in his glittering Test career.

It is not often too that a legendary cricketer bids adieu to Tests in a manner that is as triumphant as Muralitharan's departure from the longer format here on Thursday.

The timing was perfect. A Test match journey that began in 1992 against Australia in Colombo concluded amidst scenes of great joy.

Muralitharan's equanimity when emotions could have swirled around in his head underlined the character of the man. He is strong and resilient.

Fighting back

“Cricket can be very cruel game. But if you can fight your way back as Muralitharan has done, go through all the things he has gone through and still come back hard, you are going to be a winner,” said Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Dhoni had captured Muralitharan's indomitable spirit. The 38-year-old match-winner battled great odds during his eventful cricketing journey. In his moment of glory, he was willing to forget and forgive.

Forget and forgive

Talking about the Australian umpires who had called him for chucking, Muralitharan said, “I would like to forget and forgive. From what they saw from naked eye and in their mind, they felt my action was not clean.

But players must be given a chance to defend themselves. The ICC has done the right thing. It is only right that technology is being used to determine the correctness of bowling actions.”

Muralitharan imparts telling revolutions on the ball explaining the flight, dip and spin in his bowling. The man from Kandy has this unique ability to turn the ball on any surface.

Yet, it was a clever coach who, during Muralitharan's school days, convinced him from being a medium-pacer to becoming a spinner. The spin legend remembered his coach Sunil Fernando for his career-changing role here on Thursday.

He also acknowledged the contribution of former skipper Arjuna Ranatunga and his former team-mate, the formidable Aravinda de Silva, in shaping his career.

Muralitharan said, “I want to thank Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa for coming here and supporting me. It was great to have my family and friends around.”

Optimistic

The legend was optimistic about Sri Lanka's future in spin bowling. “I think Ajantha Mendis, Rangana Herath and Suraj Randiv are promising bowlers. I have nothing more to achieve in Test cricket. I did not want to stand in their way.”

Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara put things in perspective when he said, “It would be futile if we start looking for another Muralitharan. There will be only one Muralitharan. We will have to make the best use of what we have.”

Life without Muralitharan will not be easy for Sri Lanka. He could destroy Test line-ups on green-tops on the first day as the Indians found out in Colombo's SSC ground in 2001. In other words, Muralitharan was not dependent on wearing wickets.

Variations on a theme

As his career progressed, Muralitharan developed the variations.

He could bowl the arm ball, the one spinning away, the top-spinner, the flipper and could probe the batsmen from round the wicket with the delivery spinning away or those straightening. Every aspect of a batsman's technique was tested.

Sri Lanka's former coach Dav Whatmore said, “He developed the variations. But on those days when things did not go right for him, Murali could still come back and pick up wickets. He could bowl tirelessly with great concentration and focus. He could strike big at the fag end of a long spell.”

Of course, Muralitharan is a teamman first. “I think I was more worried about us getting the wickets and the prospect of rain than my 800 wickets. It is wonderful to go out when your team wins,” he said.

A blithe spirit, he is among the great characters in the game. Test cricket will be the loser.

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