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Indian spin stays yarns behind


It seems almost criminal to reduce the passion and craft of Muttiah Muralitharan to cold numbers, but a look at his career statistics in comparison to India's spin duo of the same era - Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh - is worth it if only because it will leave your eyes popping out a la Murali himself.

The comparison is decidedly unflattering to the Indian duo on every count, but that's more a tribute to the unique genius of the Sri Lankan than a discredit to the Indian duo. For starters, the man from Kandy averaged just over six wickets a match over his just-finished Test career, while neither Kumble nor Harbhajan touches even five per match.

You could argue, of course, that Muralitharan was for a large part of his career almost the lone strike bowler for Sri Lanka while Kumble and Harbhajan had to share the spoils. That seems a reasonable explanation also for the fact that Muralitharan has more five wicket hauls in an innings (67) than both the Indians put together and more 10 wicket hauls in a match (22) than the combined tally of our duo. But, how do you then explain the fact that he also averages under 23 runs per wicket compared to Kumble's nearly 30 and Harbhajan's 31-plus ? Surely, in these figures being a lone ranger should have worked to the Lankan's disadvantage since there would be little or no pressure from the other end helping him.

Most tellingly, Muralitharan got a wicket on average about once in nine overs, whereas both Kumble and Harbhajan have got wickets on average once every 11 overs. If that seems like a minor difference, consider the fact that at an average of six wickets per match, Muralitharan would have had to bowl 12 extra overs every match to get the same number of wickets he has if he had the same strike rate as the two Indians. That translates into an additional 35-40 minutes per match, which could often mean the difference between the opposition saving a match and losing it.

To leave you with an idea of just how much Murali is ahead of the pack, here's a statistical tidbit: If Harbhajan continues to take as many wickets per Test match as he has so far, it will take him another 105 Tests to draw level with the Lankan. That would conservatively mean Harbhajan playing for more than a decade more. Fat chance, did you say? And remember of all bowlers still playing Tests, Harbhajan is the closest to Murali's tally. Which is why it seems safe to say that when it comes to this particular record, there won't ever be any doosra.

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