Controversies that made Muttiah Muralitharan stronger

It is still a burning question among the cricketing fraternity: Is Muralitharan’s bowling action legal?

“When I heard that the rules would now allow a degree of straightening – 15 degrees to be exact, a fraction more than Murali’s straightening had been measured at – I thought ‘That’s a load of horse crap. That’s rubbish’,” wrote Adam Gilchrist in a response to ICC’s change of bowling action law in 2005 to allow bowlers to straighten their bowling arm up to 15 degrees.

You can find in detail about his unique bowling action and the techniques involved in our in-focus blog here.

Muttiah Muralitharan must be the only wrist off-spinner who has faced many challenges because of the deformity in his hand. Lots of questions and controversies were raised on Murali’s bowling action. Right from the beginning, the Australians were against the bowling action of Muttiah Muralitharan. 

Despite the controversies and tests that went around his bowling action, the legendary spinner faced everything with a smile, and he managed to be on the top of the bowlers’ chart. One must be more patient enough to be in the shoes of Muttiah Muralitharan.

Timeline of Muralitharan Controversies

Here’s a timeline of all controversial instances faced by Muttiah Muralitharan in his cricket tours to Australia:

  • In 1995, the controversy opened up in the Boxing day Test match in Australia. The Australian umpire Darrell Hair called no-ball for Murali’s bowling action. It happened again in the ODI series. This time, it was the umpire Ross Emerson who called no-ball even for the leg breaks bowled by Muralitharan. 
  • Muralitharan went on for a biomechanical test in 1996, and it declared Murali’s action a legal one on citing a congenital defect in Muralitharan’s arm, which makes him incapable of fully straightening the arm but gives the appearance of fully straightening it. 
  • Again in 1998, when Sri Lanka toured Australian, the controversy raised again when Ross Emerson called no-ball for Murali’s action. The mystery spinner was sent for further tests in Perth and England. Muralitharan cleared those action tests again. 
  • Muralitharan’s doosra against Australia was questioned in 2004 by the match referee Chris Broad. After so much research and analysis, ICC announced Muralitharan’s doosra as legal. 
Muttiah Muralitharan during the biomechanics test in 2004
Muttiah Muralitharan during the biomechanics test in 2004
  • Muralitharan went on to have another biomechanics test in 2006 as there were controversies about his trials in 2004. And once again, Murali didn’t fail to prove his action a legal one. 

What the opposition players say about Muralitharan?

“I can bat Shane Warne at any time. But Muttiah, he always confuses me. I had no clue what he was going to bowl”.

Brian Lara, former West Indies cricketer

“For teams about to take on this proud cricketing nation, about half the team meeting will revolve around how to combat his (Murali) unique style of bowling.”

Steve Waugh, former Australian cricketer (captained the Australia team during the Murali controversies)

“Muttiah Muralitharan was the best I have played against. Murali was an extremely skillful bowler, he could spin the ball both ways, not by a little bit but by a long way. It was very difficult to pick and read. He had great consistency and control”.

Rahul Dravid, former Indian cricketer

“Of all the guys that we play, I think the most time we(Australia) spend in the discussion is Murali. “

Matthew Hayden, former Australian cricketer

“Murali and Warne are the best bowlers I have ever faced.”

Jacques Kallis, former South African cricketer

“He gave me more headaches and more sleepless nights. I couldn’t pick him”.

Justin Langer, former Australian cricketer, and current Australian coach

“If you see his career graph, it’s sheer consistency. He is a champion bowler.

MS Dhoni, Indian cricketer

What the fellow teammates say about Muralitharan?

Arjuna Ranatunga questioned umpire Ross Emerson's no-balls calls for Muralis's bowling before gesturing his players to walk off the field against England at Adelaide 1999
Arjuna Ranatunga questioned umpire Ross Emerson’s no-balls calls for Murali’s bowling before gesturing his players to walk off the field against England at Adelaide 1999

“His greatest strength is that he can turn the ball on any surface. But then, top batsmen got used to sharply turning off-spinners. Subsequently, Murali developed the one that spun away, the ball that straightened and bowled effectively from round the wicket.”

Arjuna Ranatunga, former Sri Lankan Captain

“I have a good record as a Sri Lankan captain, and the main reason for that, I think, is that I was fortunate that Murali was at his peak during the four years I captained the side.” 

Sanath Jayasuriya, former Sri Lankan cricketer

“Murali had confused many batsmen. At the same time, I got confused too while standing behind”.

Kumar Sangakkara, former Sri Lankan cricketer

“We felt that opportunity to get wickets every time he comes into bowl.”

Mahela Jayawardene, former Sri Lankan cricketer


When it comes to Muralitharan, the credit must be equally given to the Sri Lanka Cricket. They stood by him, which is what most of the other teams wouldn’t have done. They support the raw talents of their nation. Maybe we wouldn’t have seen Muralitharan in international cricket if he had born and played cricket in any other cricketing country. 

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