Muttiah Muralitharan, Sri Lanka's legendary off-spinner, needs no introduction. He is renowned as one of the world's finest bowlers, boasting an impressive record of 800 Test wickets and 534 One Day International (ODI) wickets. Presently, he holds the top position in both ODIs and Test rankings as a bowler.
What set Muralitharan apart, aside from his distinctive action, was his ability to spin the ball on any surface. His googly/doosra (the wrong one) consistently troubled batsmen. Until the last moment, they struggled to figure out whether Murali would bowl his regular off-spin or the doosra, which spun in the opposite direction.
For many great cricketers, deciphering the 'doosra' proved to be a formidable challenge due to Muralitharan's unorthodox action. It even prompted interventions by the International Cricket Council (ICC).
However, Sachin Tendulkar managed to unlock this enigma, leaving Muralitharan himself amazed. The Sri Lankan cricketer shared this revelation at an event in India, coinciding with the trailer release of his biopic, "800."
"Some players could read me. I know he (Sachin Tendulkar) read me well. Not many people can do that. Lara had success, but he never read me either. I don't know what the mechanism is, but he managed to read me, as did a few others. I know Rahul Dravid, one of my favorite players, never managed to read me. I knew that," Muralitharan said.
What is a doosra?
A doosra is a type of delivery which spins in the opposite direction to an off break (the off-spinner's default bowl). This confuses the batsman into playing an unavoidable shot.
Sachin Tendulkar, undeniably a master of the game, employed his cricketing intellect to great effect on the field. In the case of Muralitharan, Sachin revealed that he carefully observed Murali's grip on the ball just before release to determine the type of delivery he was about to bowl.
He documented this in his autobiography, "Playing It My Way." Sachin explained, "When facing spin bowlers, I have always scrutinized the bowler's release point to anticipate their delivery. In the case of the Sri Lankan legend Muttiah Muralitharan, I noticed that he had his thumb on top of the ball when bowling the doosra. For his regular off-spin deliveries, his thumb was positioned below the ball. We once had a conversation in the dressing room about how to pick Murali's 'doosra,' and I told everyone that all they needed to do was watch his thumb."
Sachin continued, "One day, while we were practicing at the SSC Ground in Colombo, Murali himself came to the ground. Harbhajan (Bhajji) decided to approach him and ask how to bowl the 'doosra.' Murali advised Bhajji to use his thumb to support the ball from the top—that was the secret."
Sachin confessed that he had no knowledge of this conversation until Bhajji informed him later. "I felt very gratified that I had figured it out for myself," Sachin remarked.
For years, Muralitharan troubled batsmen with his 'doosra' delivery. In 2004, he faced ICC scrutiny for violating the rules because it appeared that he bent his elbow excessively while bowling the 'doosra,' exceeding the ICC's permissible limit of 5 degrees for spin bowlers.
He subsequently underwent biomechanical tests at the University of Western Australia, which revealed that Muralitharan was straightening his arm at angles well beyond the ICC's revised limit of 15 degrees for spin bowlers. Consequently, his action was deemed legal once again.
The 'doosra' or googly delivery was pioneered by Pakistani off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq over two decades ago during a match against Australia in Sharjah. Mushtaq's unique delivery spun the ball from leg to off for right-handed batsmen, in contrast to the typical off-spin that turns the ball off to leg. Notably, Mushtaq faced no controversy over his action, and he comfortably bowled the doosra. In Muralitharan's case, his action raised questions, leading to ICC intervention.
Muralitharan made his international cricket debut in 1992 and retired from all forms of the game in 2011. His life journey will soon be depicted in the film "800," inspired by the Sri Lankan cricketer's remarkable career. The movie's release date has not yet been finalised.