ONDRIVE – WITH SHAM SAMAROO
Regarded as the greatest spinner ever to play the game, the Aussie Shane Warne, celebrated his 48th birthday this past week.
In 1993, with his first delivery in England, generally agreed to be the most famous ball in history, Warne spun his way to international stardom. It was an absolute beauty: pitching outside leg stump, it scythed off Mike Gatting’s off stump. In a career of glorious accomplishments, Warne has achieved just about everything a bowler can hope for including 708 wickets; a test hat trick; and Man of the Match in a World Cup final. In 2000, he was rated one of the five greatest cricketers of the 20th century.
Warne was the first to reach 700 wickets, and by the time he retired in 2007, he had captured 708 test wickets, second only to Muttiah Muralitharan. Warne possessed a bag full of spin tricks including 7 or 8 different balls. His remarkable comeback in 2004 after serving a one-year ban for taking a weight-reducing pill is something of which only dreams are made. In three tests, he bagged 26 Sri Lankan batsmen, and the following year he captured a world record 96 victims, 40 of which came on the Ashes tour to England. His swansong series in 2007 also appeared to be divinely scripted. He achieved his goal of reclaiming the Ashes that Australia had lost in 2005 despite his 40 wickets. In the eyes of most, Warne is the greatest captain Australia never had. To prove the point, he captained Rajasthan Royals to the inaugural IPL title.
Between 2004 and 2007, the record for most wickets changed hands repeatedly between Warne and Muralitharan. Records are meant to be broken and, in theory, it should be a remarkable achievement: something that attests to a player’s extraordinary skill or talent. Unfortunately, there are instances, too, when records were achieved more as a statistical formality – a testimony of longevity, if you wish, rather than one of skill and extraordinary ability. It is his faith that, perhaps, Muralitharan’s record will always be tainted with the question, is he a cheat? While the one year suspension for taking a diuretic pill might always colour Warne’s heroics. Let’s look back at the record holders to determine whose was an extraordinary accomplishment and whose, a mere testimony to longevity.
When West Indian off spinner Lance Gibbs overtook fiery Freddy Truman’s record of 308 wickets it was indeed a monumental accomplishment. Truman held the record since 1963 and, like Sobers’ 365, it seemed, at one time, unbreakable. It was the first time that a spinner had crossed the 300 – wicket mark. Gibbs is recognized as one of the finest off spinners the game has ever seen, and his accomplishment was a testimony to the art of off spin.
In an interview in 2004, Greg Chappell told me what many of us already knew – that Dennis Lillee is the greatest fast bowler ever to play the game. In1981 when Greg Chappell took the catch to dismiss West Indian Larry Gomes, it gave Dennis Lillee his 310th wicket and made him the highest wicket taker in tests, surpassing Lance Gibbs. Lillee held the record until his retirement: 70 tests, 355 wickets – a phenomenal accomplishment.
As an all rounder, Ian Botham’s numbers rival Sir Gary Sobers. The 80s is considered the golden age of allrounders, and Botham was, indisputably, the greatest of them all – ahead of Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee, or Kapil Dev. Botham surpassed Dennis Lillee’s record of 355 wickets and finished with 384 wickets. His accomplishment must also be viewed in the light that he was not a front line bowler thus making his accomplishment that more remarkable.
Along with Dennis Lillee, Richard Hadlee (who took the record from Botham), might well be considered the pre-eminent record holder – 433 wickets in 87 tests. Knighted Sir Richard Hadlee for his achievements, Hadlee is considered the finest medium pacer of his time, and arguably, the greatest ever.
Kapil Dev overtook Hadlee and receives full marks for his commitment, but his achievement must be considered a testimony to longevity and determination rather than pure genius. Kapil Dev played a total of 131 tests and finished with a record 434 wickets. West Indian Courtney Walsh surpassed Kapil Dev and went on to break the 500 wicket barrier finishing with 517 wickets. However, Walsh’s record breaking achievement is also a testimony to longevity and commitment.
With 800 wickets in 133 tests, Muttiah Muralitharan’s place in history is already assured. Starboy feels that the jury is still out on Muralitharan who was made legal by a 200 percent change to the pelting rule. His dubious action aside, Muralitharan captured most of his wickets on home grown, spinner’s paradises. His recent decision not to go on the 2004 tour to Australia also counts against him.
If you have never seen it – Warne’s dismissal of Mike Gatting in 1993 – then make it a must see. Named one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Century, Warne is, arguably, the greatest spinner ever to play the game.
Warne and Tendulkar at the coin toss in CITI Field NY Mets Stadium