Final pits the master against the maestro

There’s probably no such thing as a true neutral in cricket, as all fans have the teams they love to hate. But if real impartiality did exist, the matchup for Saturday’s World Cup final would be the dream final. It’s Sachin Tendulkar, the best batsman of the modern era, against Muttiah Muralitharan, the best spinner the subcontinent has ever produced. It’s enough to get even Duncan Fletcher excited.

Whatever happens, the match will have a fairytale ending. But who do you want to win? As an Englishman, I really don’t care. The worst case scenario of an Australia versus South Africa final has been avoided. There will be no nauseating grin on Ricky Ponting or Graeme Smith’s face come Saturday evening – and that’s the main thing.

As we tipped India to win the tournament (despite the fact that some of their bowlers make Alan Igglesden look positively brilliant) we’re backing Dhoni’s boys to triumph. Our ‘World Cup Preview’ claimed that Sri Lanka would do well, but ‘if they meet India they’ll lose’ – and like Richard Illingworth’s bowling, we’re not for turning.

Sri Lanka’s lack of batting depth will be their downfall. Their top four is amazing but we’re not so sure about the rest. England were probably only four balls away from beating them. That’s four unplayable peaches delivered by James Tredwell. Ahem.

Of course, the result could be decided by the duel between Tendulkar and Murali. It’s a fascinating battle: the orthodox and the eye pleasing against the quirky and the controversial. I imagine that most people outside of Sri Lanka will be backing Sachin – simply because Murali’s legitimacy splits opinion.

Those of you who have doubts about Muralitharan’s action should watch this it’s the famous video when he bowls with a brace on his arm. It proves beyond doubt that Murali doesn’t bend his arm when he bowls. He gets his spin from an incredibly flexible wrist and shoulder.

There’s an optical illusion that Murali chucks because his arm is naturally bent. He can’t physically straighten his arms – much like Myleene Klass (bizarre but true). The rules dictate that a delivery isn’t a throw unless the arm is straightened in delivery. Murali’s arm is bent to start with, so he isn’t technically throwing.

Of course, it could be argued that those who wrote the law didn’t foresee a Sri Lankan with a unique physiology, and that the spirit of the law implies that bowling with a bent arm should be illegal – the problem for Murali’s critics is that, as the law stands, the all time leading wicket taker isn’t doing anything wrong.

I believe the more pertinent question is this. Does having a naturally bent arm give Murali an unfair advantage? And if so, is Myleene Klass interested in cricket? If she is, Andy Flower should give her a ring pronto. She could be English cricket’s big hope.

As for Tendulkar, what can we say that hasn’t been said before? The only controversy that’s dogged Sachin is whether he’s better than Bradman or not. It’s an impossible comparison, of course, but I’d be tempted to say yes. The sheer longevity of his career (177 tests and 452 ODIs) suggests so. And besides, Bradman was an Aussie, so sod him (just kidding Sir Don).

Any young batsman would do well to copy Sachin’s technique. He’s compact and classical. On the other hand, youngsters should probably stay clear of Murali’s action. Since the laws were relaxed to allow bowlers fifteen degrees of flex, cricket has unearthed too many bowlers who get purists hot under the collar. Johan Botha, Saeed Ajmal, Shaun Tait and Bangladesh’s Abdur Razzak have all raised eyebrows at one time or another. The controversy isn’t good for the game.

What cricket fans need to remember is that every bowler at the World Cup has been examined by the ICC and cleared. That should be the end of the argument. Besides, none of this is Murali’s fault. He’s made the most of his unique talent and he’s brought a lot of joy to cricket fans around the world. Somehow it would be fitting if it’s Murali, not Sachin, who lifts the World Cup. Whatever you think of Murali, his career has been an extraordinary story of triumph in the face of adversity.

James Morgan


  • Never seen that footage of Murali before. It makes the point and I might need to change my views. I recall that there was a guy at Uni (you might recall) who had a bent arm and got no balled for it from time to time, but he really couldn’t straighten his arm.

    As for the final, it is hard to see past India but Sri Lanka are within a chance. A tie with Murali taking Tendulkar’s wicket with the last ball. Then a super over…

  • James, there are better ways to spend ones time discussing Murali’s action but do note two points.

    1) An arm doesn’t have to completely straighten to be a throw, it only needs to unbend by more than 15 degrees (under the new law). Murali generally bowls around 10+- 3, the doosra as close as 14 +- 3. He definitely goes over the limit sometimes, but he is not the only one, or even the worst anymore.

    2) The arm brace proves precisely nothing. If he can’t straighten his arm, then it won’t straighten; if he can straighten (unbraced) then it might unbend because of the forces he puts on his fore-arm, and the bent angle he begins with. The issue at hand is the nature of his action which has the elbow pointing down the pitch on release.

    • The link you’ve posted is very interesting Russ. But it would seem churlish of us, or anyone else, to post a blog article condemning Murali’s action on the eve of his last hurrah! As we said, he is a controversial figure. Some people will be on his back forever. However, I don’t think the brace experiment can be dismissed out of hand. it does prove that he can bowl all his deliveries without any straightening of the arm. Whether he does so in matches is another matter, but it is impossible to police on the field – due to political constraints and the fact that umpires already have so much on their plate. As for your assertion that Murali isn’t the worst, I think I probably agree with you. One of the worst offenders used to play for England.

      • James, as I said, it is a waste of people’s time to dwell on it, but then you brought it into your article in the first place. I wrote my article seven years ago and only one thing has changed – I now think the best way of judging throwing is not to look for elbow bend, but elbow rotation. But that is all by the by; ultimately the batsmen need to play the ball as released either way. Murali ought to be celebrated for his phenomenal control and competitive fire to defeat the batsman; Sri Lanka doesn’t need him to win one-day games, but they’d have been nothing without him at test level.

  • Murali has a remarkable record of writing his own scripts – his 800th test wicket and final delivery in Sri Lanka could not have been more dramatic. I wonder if he has a great end to his international carear.


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