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2000s in Review

Wisden’s Test spell of the 2000s, No.1: Muttiah Muralitharan’s 8-70

muralitharan 8-70
Yas Rana by Yas Rana
@Yas_Wisden 2 minute read

Muttiah Muralitharan’s 8-70 against England in 2006 is Wisden’s Test spell of the 2000s. Yas Rana remembers a clinical display of mystery spin bowling.

Muttiah Muralitharan 8-70

England v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test
Trent Bridge, Nottingham
June 2-5, 2006

“I really don’t know how you score off Murali at the moment, surviving is pretty difficult” – Geoffrey Boycott perfectly summing up the challenge facing England’s batsmen that day at Trent Bridge. In the third and final Test of the series, England, 1-0 up at this point, were making steady progress in their fourth innings pursuit of 325. Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss had laid a stable foundation as England looked to register what would be their second highest successful run chase of all time. At 84-0, they were looking good.

That all changed quite dramatically in a remarkable passage of play before tea on what turned out to be the final day of the series. In the space of 22 overs, Muralitharan had dismissed the entirety of England’s top six. It was some top six, too. Trescothick, Strauss, Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Andrew Flintoff; the last four of those names collectively accumulating just 20 runs between them.

Muralitharan’s onslaught came in three stages. First the triumvirate of Trescothick, Strauss and Cook, England’s three great modern-day opening batsmen, all falling to unpicked or misread doosras. Strauss’ dismissal epitomised the struggle of the English batsmen that day. Playing inside the line, unsure of the direction of turn, the ball spun sharply back into Strauss, striking his outside edge and then looping into the grateful hands of Mahela Jayawardene at slip off the gloves of Kumar Sangakkara.

Then the right-handers, all three snaffled at short-leg. While Collingwood was desperately unlucky – he fell to a grubber that he bottom-edged onto his toe – Pietersen and Flintoff were both undone as they tried to defend, purposefully getting long strides in with bat and pad together, but looping the ball up to an obliging Tillakaratne Dilshan regardless. Pietersen finished the series with an average of 72 and a strike-rate north of 75; it was on the charge that he was at his most comfortable against Muralitharan. Such was the web the Sri Lankan spun that day, a counter-attack was off the cards for even two of England’s most aggressive batsmen.

Finally, Muralitharan was too hot to handle for Geraint Jones and Jon Lewis after tea, the former falling to yet another doosra, the latter to a sharp off-break. His spell either side of tea emphatically decided the result of the series at a ground not historically known for its assistance for spinners – no English spinner has ever taken more than one five-wicket haul in Test cricket at the venue – at a time of year generally unhelpful to spin bowling. Mystery spin at its best has the characteristic of inducing an air of cluelessness about even the most competent of batsmen. Muralitharan made a strong English batting line-up look utterly befuddled that day in Nottingham.

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