My dear Murali,
I thought I must write to you now that you have scaled cricket’s Mount Everest, taking eight hundred wickets and then hanging up your boots. Congratulations, Murali, but I think it is not what you did that matters most-but how you did it and also what you meant to this country over the last eighteen years.
It is true that you hold all those mind-boggling records and that your final record of eight hundred test wickets will probably never be broken, just as much as Bradman’s batting average of 99 won’t be. We do thank you and admire you for your achievements but for a moment Murali we thought you would be left stranded on 799 wickets last Thursday, just as much as Bradman got out for a ‘duck’ in his last test innings, missing out on a test average of one hundred...
But I think, Murali, what we saw last week in Galle was an expression of how much you are loved and respected in this country-and I am not talking about Mahinda maama taking time off his busy schedule to see you play your final match either. Indeed, I think it is fair to say that none of our cricket ‘superstars’ who retired got such a grand and emotional farewell!
One reason is that we won so many matches because of you Murali, when you almost single-handedly outwitted opposing batsmen over and over again. And we must remember that you played at a time when the war was at its peak in this country and its people were gripped with fear.
They did not know whether they would return home after a day’s work at the office. There was little in this country to smile about. And then you came along, won cricket matches for us and suddenly, there was a cause for celebration. That I think played a big part in explaining why you are loved so much.
Of course, there were controversies on the way. And none more so than the one where some stupid Australian umpires decided to call you for ‘chucking’, probably because they couldn’t bear the sight of someone else stealing the limelight from their own boy wonder, Shane Warne. Why, even their Prime Minister called you a ‘chucker’!
And you didn’t go about ridiculing them in return. Instead you kept your head high and with some help from the likes of Arjuna, subjected yourself to rigorous testing, in-of all places- Australia! And what they found pleasantly surprised all of us: most bowlers bent their elbows to some degree and you didn’t do so significantly more than any of them.
That silenced almost all of your critics except a few die-hards who refused to believe what they saw but you just went about your business, letting the ball talk for you. And more importantly, you did so without even a hint of malice towards those who tried to drag you down and erase all your records.
Wondering why you are so special makes us realize that you may have got eight hundred wickets but whenever you got one, you didn’t sneer at the batsman and point towards the pavilion, did you? Your eyes light up, you smile and you might even jump up in joy, but that is about it!
But Murali, I must confess that if ever there was a sight in cricket better than watching you bowl, it was to watch you bat! Pardon me, but there were times when I thought that even I could do better than that, but then for sheer entertainment it was hard to beat!
Then we heard you say a few months ago that you wished to retire. You had eight wickets to get to the magical mark of 800 wickets and if you wished you could have asked to play all three games against India. Instead, you said that ‘eight hundred is just a number’ and announced that you were quitting after one match, 800 wickets or not!
Now, that surely must be a lesson to all of us because you went while people were asking you why you were leaving instead of waiting until they asked you why you weren’t retiring! We only wish that some other seniors in your team-and some politicians too-would do the same!
You have said that you will never take to politics Murali and I think it is a wise decision because we feel you are not suited for it. For instance, you didn’t try to extend the number of times you could play just because you had won the most matches for us!
Come to think of it, four members of that World Cup winning team-Arjuna, Sanath, Hashan and Pramodya-have taken to politics now but none of them have made a major impact yet. No Murali believe me, the nice man that you are, you won’t get anywhere in politics...
We know that quite apart from Murali the cricketer, you are also admired for your humility and generosity. Maybe that is why you were so admired by so many. Whatever it was Murali, it is time for us to say thank you for all those memories, wickets-and your unforgettable smile through all your trials and triumphs.
PS-Oh, by the way Murali, didn’t someone say that you were Tamil? And all last week when the entire nation was behind you cheering you on to 800 wickets, and indeed even before that, we had forgotten all about that. That, Murali, is your other unique contribution to our country: showing this nation that if we can forget our differences and work as one we can win. And if the support you got at Galle was any indication where the entire nation stood up as one to applaud you, it seems that you have directed us that way too...