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As Muttiah Muralitharan is about to retire from international Cricket, I decided to compare the top three spinners of the recent times, who are Shane Warne, Anil Kumble and Murali. All three great players have over 600 wickets in tests and have ensured their team's victory on numerous occasions.

Let’s start with some statistics:

Player        Matches(H)  Wickets(H)      Avg(H)    Matches(A)   Wickets(A)   Avg(A)

 Kumble                 63            350            25                69             269          35

 Warne                  69            319            26                76             389          25

 Murali                   73            493            20                60             307          28

 H-Home, A-Away

Statistically, our Indian legend is behind his counterparts, particularly when playing away from home. He has been very effective on the turning Indian pitches, but not so much on varied tracks around the world. It is probably the reason why most people believe Warne and Murali are the top 2 spinners. Having said all that, I must add that Kumble seems to be the most hardworking and determined out of the three. I can never forget the test match against West Indies, where in spite of a fractured jaw he kept fighting and got crucial wickets for India. He is a real champion and he has proven that in IPL again. The 10 wicket haul in an innings is just one of Kumble's many outstanding performances.

When we compare Warne and Murali, we find that Warne has a better away record than Murali, but it’s the other way around at home. In Australia, most tracks are fast and bouncy like Perth, which helped likes of Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie to take more wickets than Warne. However, when Australia played away from home, Warne did better with tracks assisting him more than pacers. Murali on the other hand, has over the years got constant support from Chaminda Vaas. Together, they have been Sri Lanka's backbone in bowling. Also, Sri Lankan tracks are tailor-made for spinners like Murali to extract turn and occasionally bounce.

Some more stats to compare the two in matches won by their sides:

Bowler     Matches    Wickets taken    % of team's wickets      Average    

Murali           54               438                      42                      16                       

Warne          92               510                      29                      22 

The statistics above are good enough for anyone to realize how strong the Aussies had been in Warne's playing days. He has featured in 40 more test wins for Australia than Murali has for Sri Lanka. The interesting part of the statistic is the % of team's wickets in wins, where Murali is way ahead of Warne. This just shows that he has been instrumental in matches they have won, conceding just 16 runs per wicket. He has been Sri Lanka's bowling hero for years. Another good way of comparing the two would be seeing how they perform against India, since Indians are known to play spin really well. Against India, both haven't been at their best. Murali has taken over 100 wickets at an average of 33, while Warne has taken 43 wickets conceding 47 runs per wicket. Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman have been particularly brutal on Shane Warne, which is why he doesn't have a record to remember against India.

All these stats make me feel that probably Murali is the No.1 bowler being a match winner like no other. Murali has created a far greater impact on Sri Lanka’s cricketing history than Warne has for Australia. Sri Lankans could almost never do without Murali if he was injured, but, Australia wasn't affected that much even if Warne wasn't there to cast his magic. However, as a cricketer if I had to pick one of the two, then I would definitely pick Shane Warne. Not only was he a brilliant bowler but a useful batsman lower down the order and an amazing slip fielder as well. He alongside Mark Waugh and Mark Taylor formed what was probably the world's safest slip cordon.

Even though Warne and Murali are greats of the same era, they are very different to each other. The Lankan is simple and humble man, while Warne is aggressive, flamboyant and at times even arrogant. Both have had their careers marred with controversies but of very different natures. Warne was involved in an infamous scandal with bookmakers in 1994, a substance abuse case in 2003, apart from having marital problems and other affairs. Murali, on the other hand, has faced most controversies regarding his action. Australia was probably Murali's least favourite touring nation, since the then PM John Howard had called him a chucker in 2004.The crowds didn’t like him either. In the very same country, Murali was no-balled many times for apparent chucking by umpire Darrel Hair in 1995.However, his action has been cleared by the ICC after they took an intensive test. In spite of all the controversies he has become the highest wicket taker in history with 800 wickets in tests and over 500 in ODIs.

With Murali’s retirement likes of Daniel Vettori, Harbhajan Singh and Graeme Swann will try and attain the title of the best spinner in the world. Most people would say, Harbhajan with more than 350 wickets is the only one with the chance of closing in on Warne’s or Murali’s record. Yet, my favourite has to be Daniel Vettori who might not have the best average, but still is very effective on tracks of New Zealand which are suited for fast bowlers. Harbhajan Singh is slightly behind Vettori in my books since he hasn’t been as effective away from the sub-continent. England’s Greame Swann is also an exciting bowler to watch. He has already helped his country win their 1st ICC Trophy by winning the recent T20 World Cup. However, if at all Swann can play test cricket for a long time with the same consistency is yet to be seen.



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