In terms of wickets taken, Sri Lankan legend Muttiah Muralitharan is the undisputed spin king of international cricket.
He is the leading wicket-taker in Tests (800) and ODIs (534), as well as the second-leading wicket-taker in ICC Cricket World Cup history.
Today marks 534 days until the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 gets underway in England and Wales - the same number as Murali’s ODI record - so we decided to pay tribute to the cricketing legend and look back at the impact he made at previous tournaments.
With 68 wickets in 42 matches, one title and the most wickets by a spinner at the tournament, Muralitharan most definitely carried his high standards into the biggest One-Day stage of them all.
He made his tournament debut in 1996 as a 23-year-old, and signed off with an emotional farewell at the 2011 final. In total, he played at five Cricket World Cups – appearing in three finals – and here we look at his record.
Muralitharan’s relationship with the ICC Cricket World Cup started in perfect fashion, as he was part of the first Sri Lanka side to lift the trophy.
His debut came against Zimbabwe, where he picked up 1 for 37, before going on to take another six wickets in the tournament. The only match he failed to pick up a scalp was a group-stage game against India, but he managed 2-apiece against Kenya and England respectively, before taking 1 for29 against India in the semi-final.
He may have only taken one wicket in the final against Australia, but his impressive economy rate (3.10 from 10 overs), was vital in restricting Australia to 241, before Sri Lanka’s batters knocked it off for the loss of just three wickets.
The 1999 World Cup was Murali’s least productive in terms of wickets taken, as he finished up with just six from five appearances.
Three of them came against South Africa in Northampton with another fine spell of economical bowling - his 3 for 25 off 10 overs keeping South Africa to just 199. He followed that performance with 2 for 29 from 10 overs against Zimbabwe.
Murali was back to his wicket-taking best in 2003, when he was Sri Lanka’s second leading wicket-taker with 17.
Kenya felt the full force of his skill in their group match, as he grabbed four wickets in 10 overs for just 28 runs, yet another example of his ability to combine strike bowling with a good economy rate.
Two more showings of that skill came against Bangladesh (3 for 23 off 10 overs) and India (3 for 36 off 10).
He finished with the most wickets by a spinner at the tournament, and sixth leading wicket-taker overall.
2007 saw Murali reach his second Cricket World Cup Final – this time on the losing side – and finish the tournament’s second leading wicket-taker with 23 (again as the leading spinner).
It was his most fruitful tournament, claiming two four-wickets hauls and a pair of three-wickets efforts as he helped Sri Lanka reach the final for the first time since his debut tournament in 1996.
His four-wicket hauls came in successive games against Ireland and New Zealand respectively; 4 for 19 off just five overs helped skittle Ireland for a meagre 77, before following it up with 4 for 31 off 8 overs in the semi-final against the Kiwis.
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, he couldn’t replicate his feats in the final, as they were beaten by Australia, with Murali finishing with figures of 0 for 44.
Even as a veteran 38-year-old, Muralitharan proved he still had it in him in 2011, as he helped Sri Lanka reach the final once more – the third time in his five tournament appearances.
He took 15 wickets in total, the most by a Sri Lankan player, with 11 of those coming in the group stage. He opened with 2/38 against Canada, followed by a single wicket against Pakistan and Kenya respectively.
New Zealand again fell to his spin wizardry in their group match, as he took four wickets in eight overs to help bowl them out for 153.
2 for 54 in the quarter-final against England and 2 for 42 in the semi-final vs New Zealand helped Sri Lanka book their spot in the final, but it wasn’t to be the dream finale for Murali, as he failed to take a wicket in the final, as India lifted the trophy in Mumbai.
Muralitharan’s CWC wickets by opposition…
New Zealand: 13 (4 matches)
South Africa: 9 (4 matches)
India: 7 (6 matches)
Zimbabwe: 7 (4 matches)
Kenya: 7 (4 matches)
England: 6 (4 matches)
Bangladesh: 4 (2 matches)
Ireland: 4 (1 match)
Canada: 3 (2 matches)
West Indies: 3 (3 matches)
Bermuda: 2 (1 match)
Australia: 2 (6 matches)
Pakistan: 1 (1 match)
Muralitharan’s wickets by Cricket World Cup…
1996 – 7
1999 – 6
2003 – 17
2007 – 23
2011 – 15
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