Averaging nearly six wickets per Test, Muttiah Muralitharan is one of the most successful bowlers in the game, the greatest player in Sri Lanka's history, and without doubt the most controversial cricketer of the modern age. Muralitharan's rise from humble beginnings, being the Tamil son of a hill-country confectioner, to the top of the wicket-takers' list in Test cricket has divided the cricket world in the past decade because of his weird bent-arm bowling action.
He bowls marathon spells, yet is forever on the attack. From a loose-limbed, open-chested action, his chief weapons are the big-spinning offbreak and two versions of the top-spinner, one of which goes straight on and the other, which has now been labelled his doosra, which spins in the opposite direction to his stock ball. His newest variation is a version of Shane Warne's slider, which is flicked out the side of his hand and rushes onto batsmen like a flipper. His super-flexible wrist makes him especially potent and guarantees him turn on any surface.
His career has been beset with controversy from the start. Suspicions about his action were whispered soon after his debut against the Australians in 1993 and then aired freely after he was called for throwing while touring Australia in 1995-96, first in the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne by Darrel Hair and later in the one-day series that followed. He was cleared by the ICC after biomechanical analysis at the University of Western Australia and at the University of Hong Kong in 1996. They concluded that his action created the 'optical illusion of throwing'.
But the controversy did not die away. He was called again on the 1998-99 tour to Australia, this time by Ross Emerson. Muralitharan was sent for further tests in Perth and England and was cleared again. However, the perfection of his doosra prompted further suspicion and at the end of a prolific three-match home series against Australia in March 2004 he was reported by ICC match referee Chris Broad. More high-tech tests followed, and ultimately forced the ICC to seriously look into the entire issue of throwing in international cricket, which revealed that many bowlers bend their arms during delivery, and that Murali might have been made an unfair victim. On the field, Murali continued to pile on the wickets, overtaking Courtney Walsh's 519-wicket world record to become the highest wicket-taker in Test history in May 2004.
It is unlikely that Muralitharan's career will ever be controversy-free, a fact that he now accepts. But the rapid progress of technology and sports science in the past decade has undoubtedly salvaged his reputation. He continues to pick up wickets by the bucket load, although many large hauls have come against the two weakest nations - Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. However, he saves his most stunning efforts for the big boys, such as his duel with the Australians in 2004 and his eight-wicket haul at Trent Bridge in 2006 which produced a famous series-levelling win against England.
At the rate he is accumulating wickets he will shortly join Warne on 700 Test wickets, but has indicated that the 2007 World Cup could be is one-day swansong as he tries to save his body for the longer form.
Full name Muttiah Muralitharan
Born April 17, 1972, Kandy
Current age 36 years
Major teams Sri Lanka, ACC Asian XI, ICC World XI, Kent, Lancashire, Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club
Batting style Right-hand bat
Bowling style Right-arm offbreak
Test debut Sri Lanka v Australia at Colombo (RPS) - Aug 28-Sep 2, 1992
ODI debut Sri Lanka v India at Colombo (RPS) - Aug 12, 1993
Only Twenty20 Int. New Zealand v Sri Lanka at Wellington - Dec 22, 2006
First-class span 1989/90 - 2006/07
List A span 1991/92 - 2006/07
Twenty20 span 2005 - 2006/07