Perhaps the greatest spin bowler in the history of cricket, the legendary Muttiah Muralitharan’s ability to bamboozle batsmen with his variation and turn made him the benchmark for all aspiring spinners to measure up to. With 800 Test wickets to his name, it’ll take a herculean effort by whoever goes past him for most scalps in the red-ball cricket. While most oppositions struggled to deal with his guile and trickery, here we take a look at his top five spells in the longest format of the game.

9/51 vs Zimbabwe

His best bowling figures of 9 for 51 came during the second Test of Zimbabwe’s 2002 tour of Sri Lanka. After choosing to bat in the spin-friendly conditions of Sri Lanka, Muralitharan proceeded to weave his magic and leave the Zimbabweans in all sorts of trouble. He picked up nine of the 10 wickets in the first innings as the tourists were bundled out for 236.

The right-arm off-break bowler proved to be simply unplayable against the Chevrons with only Grant Flower managing to provide any resistance to the spin wizard. His first innings effort set up his team to put 505 on board with the bat, and a four-wicket haul in the second innings gave Sri Lanka a comfortable victory by an innings and 94 runs.

9/65 vs England

After winning the toss and electing to field first in a one-off Test at the Oval in 1998, Muralitharan was the only Sri Lankan bowler who managed to trouble England’s batsmen in the first innings. The hosts went on to post 445 in the first innings with the legendary Sri Lankan spinner finishing with figures of 7 for 155.

However, it was in the second innings after Sri Lanka had taken the lead having batted well in their first innings that Muralitharan showed glimpses of his genius. To put it simply, he was unplayable in England’s second innings as the hosts succumbed to his mastery with the ball. After getting rid of openers Mark Butcher and Steve James in successive overs, Muralitharan grew in confidence and went on to dismantle England’s batting line-up, finishing with figures of nine for 65 at an economy of 1.19 to help Sri Lanka to a 10 wicket victory and win the Man of the Match award.

8/46 vs West Indies

With a target of 378 to chase in the final innings of the second Test of West Indies’ tour of Sri Lanka in 2005, it was never going to be easy for the tourists. Add the spin artistry of Muralitharan to the mix and it only makes a difficult situation even harder. After Lasith Malinga picked up the first wicket of the final innings, the Muralitharan show went underway. Runako Morton was his first victim before both Ryan Ramdass and Sylvester Joseph fell to him in the same over. The spin maestro went on to claim eight wickets for 46 runs from 16.2 overs at an economy of 2.81.

8/70 vs England

The third and final Test of Sri Lanka’s 2006 tour of England was another top performance by Muralitharan that will still haunt Englishmen old enough to remember it. England were 1-0 up in the series and were chasing a target of 325. At 84 for no loss, it looked like England were on course for another victory but Muralitharan had other plans. The Sri Lankan spinner produced his devastating best against the England team and dismissed the hosts’ top six of Marcus Trescothick, Strauss, Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Andrew Flintoff in the span of 22 overs. He finished with figures of eight for 70 to win the Man of the Match and help Sri Lanka win the Test to tie the series.

8/87 vs India

Another unforgettable spell of spin bowling by Muralitharan was when he weaved his magic against India during the Men in Blue’s 2001 tour of Sri Lanka. Even though they were renowned for their ability to play spin with ease, India’s batsmen had no answers for Muralitharan in the first innings of the third Test. His spin and variation dismantled the Indian batting line-up, reducing them to 234 in the first innings and helped pave the way for an innings and 77-run win for Sri Lanka as well as another Man of the Match award for him.

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Lakruwan Wanniarachchi