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The Spin Doctor

In an exclusive interview for The CHELTONIAN, Michael Hasted talks to World Record holding cricketer, Muttiah Muralitharan. crack

When the great England fast bowler Fred Trueman took his 300th Test wicket he said whoever broke his record would be a tired man. But things were different in those days. The current record for Test wickets stands at 800, a record set by a man who is universally accepted as the best bowler ever. His name is, of course, Muttiah Muralitharan and at the age of 38 he admitted he was tired and announced he would no longer play Test cricket. He said “I think I am fit in my body and mind, I am enjoying my cricket and want to play more. But after the next World Cup, I will have nothing left to achieve in the game. The World Cup should mark the end of my career.”

Muralitharan announced his retirement from Test cricket after the first Test against India in 2010. During that match, on 22nd July, he captured eight wickets and became the first to reach the milestone of taking 800 Test wickets, a feat he achieved with the last ball of his last over in his last match.

The thought that Murali, as he is universally known, will no longer grace the Test arena is bad news. The good news is that you will be able to see him at a cricket ground near you.

Now, at the age of 39, the greatest bowler the world has ever seen, despite his announcement this year that he was retiring from sports all together, will be playing for Gloucestershire.

I had a chat with him during a reception at the Montpellier Wine bar and asked him what had persuaded him to play again. “Gloucestershire made me a very good offer and it was something I really wanted to do. They have given me a two year contract and a very nice house in Bristol, so I am very happy to be playing in England again.”

Averaging over six wickets per Test, Muralitharan held the number one spot in the International Cricket Council’s player rankings for Test bowlers for a record period of 1,711 days spanning 214 Test matches.

However, from his very first Test match controversy about his bowling action has always dogged him. He was accused of throwing the ball - contravening the laws of the game by straightening his bowling arm during delivery.

A major controversy developed after Australian umpire Darrell Hair called a “no ball” for an illegal action seven times during the Boxing Day Test match in Melbourne, Australia, in 1995. Subsequent scientific tests proved that his action was completely legal but controversy continued to follow him, especially in Australia.

Apart from Gloucestershire, Muralitharan plays domestic cricket for the Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club and was with the Chennai Super Kings till the 2010 season of the Indian Premier League. The Kochi Tuskers Kerala successfully bid for Murali for the 2011 season.

For Gloucestershire, Murali will be playing mainly 20/20 cricket, a limited over game in which batsmen tend to dominate and one in which bowlers have a notoriously hard time. What did Murali think about that? “It’s true, with only four overs it’s difficult to really get into the game but batsmen are so keen to make runs they will inevitably make mistakes and when they do I am always confident of picking up wickets.”

I asked him, with all the string of records he has accumulated over the years, which one gave him the greatest pleasure. “Oh, taking the 800th wicket, of course, but Sri Lanka’s World Cup win of 1996 was something really special.” But were there any regrets during his 19 year playing career. “Not winning Test Matches in South Africa, Australia and India are regrets.”

Murali will be playing cricket for Gloucestershire all over the country but unfortunately not at the Cheltenham Cricket Festival as there is no T20 match in the programme. The Festival, the oldest of its type in the world, opens at the Cheltenham College ground on 20th July and runs until the 31st.

It promises to be a bumper Festival this year with the welcome return of the Montpellier Wine Bar who will be there in their pitch side marquee providing food and drink as you watch the game. Cheltenham based luxury travel agents Abercrombie & Kent will also be in evidence sponsoring the A & K Coaching Zone supporting the work of the Gloucestershire County Cricket Club in its efforts to bring cricket to the next generation. The Zone will be run by ex-pro Damian Forder who runs the GCCC Academy.