| HOWZZAT: Muttiah Muralitharan
Spinning the ball effortlessly
One reason why England surrendered the Ashes to Australia is that faced by Shane Warne, their batsmen have resembled rats hypnotised by a king cobra.
I am all for being sporting but in order to make defeat more palatable, the England PR machine went into overdrive in depicting Warne as — to quote all-rounder Paul Collingwood — “probably the best bowler there has ever been on this planet”.
But if Warne, who has just announced his retirement, is the greatest, what does that make Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan, whose name does not trip quite as easily off English tongues as “Warney”'
At the age of 37, after playing 143 Tests — and it’s Warne’s good fortune that he has done so for the strongest cricketing nation in the world — the Australian has taken 699 wickets at an average of 25.49.
Murali, on the other hand, has, at the age of 34, taken 674 wickets in only 110 Tests at an average of 21.73.
So where will Murali be when he has played as many Tests as Warne'
We all know the answer.
In one day internationals, the comparison is harder because Warne has played 194 matches, taking 293 wickets, while Murali has a toll of 425 wickets from 282 games. But Murali’s 23.21 average is superior to that of Warne’s 25.73.
In Tests, Warne has taken five wickets on 36 occasions and 10 wickets 10 times, while the comparable figures for Murali are 57 and 19.
In one dayers, Warne has taken five wickets only once; Murali has done so eight times.
Given these statistics, an unbiased jury might well conclude that Murali has been the more effective bowler. And not for a moment would I suggest that Murali is not admired on the cricket fields of England. But there is a subtle distinction.
“Warney”, being fair-haired and a bit of a lad, is “one of us”, while Murali is “one of them”.
| footloose: Mark Ramprakash and Karen HardyArt speak: Pad-Abhishekstamp duty: Marine life
The Oval, where India will be playing a Test from August 9-13 and a one-day international on September 5 next year, is only a short drive from my home in south London.
Surrey County’s affable communications executive, Simon Hollingsworth, is happy that tickets to the one dayer have already gone, and the first three days of the Test are also sold out. This is crazy because as I write the thick fog is swirling around a frosty London and flights from Heathrow have been cancelled.
Simon looks on the bright side: “Tickets are available for day four and five of the Test.”
I tell Simon that it will be interesting to see which side Indians spectators cheer when Monty Panesar comes on to bowl.
Simon says: “It will be interesting to see what happens when Kumble comes on to bowl — he had a stint with Surrey this summer.”
My instinct is that England will be a hard side to beat in England, especially as young players such as Alastair Cook will be battle hardened after the Ashes series.
Although England players, unlike the Indians, don’t generally strut their stuff, there are two exceptions. England medium pacer Darren Gough last year won the celebrity-led “Strictly Come Dancing” competition on television, and in 2006, the Surrey batsman, Mark Ramprakash, was tipped to win this weekend’s final.
The Times remarked unkindly: “Ramprakash has taken to dancing like he never took to Test cricket.”
May be but if Karan is still casting for his next movie, Kabhi Katch Na Dena, I’d definitely give Ramprakash a cameo role.
|Art speak: Pad-Abhishek
Riot of colours
Fifteen paintings by Shanti Panchal, who describes himself as “a British artist with Indian roots”, have gone on show at an exhibition, In the Mind’s Eye, at the Chelmsford Museum in Essex.
One of them is a new work, commissioned by “a wealthy diamond merchant” in Bombay. Called Pad-Abhishek, the 178 cm x 147 cm watercolour, depicts the ceremony involved in promoting a Jain monk to Acharya.
The museum’s Keeper of Art, Anne Lutyens-Humfrey — her “grandfather’s uncle” was the great Sir Edwin Lutyens, who built much that is splendid in New Delhi — assured me that the discriminating folk of Chelmsford will enjoy Panchal’s paintings.
“You’ve never seen such large watercolours,” she observed.
Panchal, 55, does indeed work in watercolours but is credited with lifting the medium into the 21st century. In England, said Panchal, watercolours have been used mainly for painting “flowers and sweet landscapes”.
This was akin to admitting a secret weakness for the novels of Barbara Cartland but I had to tell Panchal that I have always loved the English school of delicate watercolours. He said he liked it, too. Only, having seen how oil and acrylic had developed, he had wanted watercolours to move on as well.
After outlining his composition in pencil on thick hand-made French paper (“£28 a sheet”), he builds up more than a dozen layers of colour wash. This repeated layering of paint results in strong and bold colours.
He won the National Portrait Gallery Award in 1991 and in 1994 was artist-in-residence at the British Museum, which has acquired his work — as has the V&A and the Imperial War Museum. In 2001, he won first prize in the Singer and Friedlander/Sunday Times watercolour competition.
Panchal, who settled in London after first coming to the UK on a British Council scholarship in 1978, said: “I have always had an interest in the Jain religion.”
He grew up in north Gujarat in the village of Mesar near Mount Abu surrounded by Jains. He does find it a little ironic that their philosophy of non-violence flourished in a state now headed by Narendra Modi. But every winter, Modi or not, Panchal escapes to sunny Gujarat for a couple of months to “recharge my batteries”.
|Stamp duty: Marine life
All at sea
Britain’s seas are apparently getting warmer, according to biologists, causing shell fish and other marine creatures to migrate northwards to colder waters.
Meanwhile, before leaving for a well-earned Christmas break with his parents in Calcutta, Rohan Srinivasan, who is responsible for promoting the increasingly imaginative stamps issued by Royal Mail, has alerted me to a new set coming out in February.
They feature spectacular under-water photographs of the stunning sea life — the Common Starfish, Beadlet Anemone, Thornback Ray, Lesser Octopus, Common Mussels, Grey Seal, Shore Crab and Common Sun Star — found off the UK’s 11,000- mile coastline.
Now that is stunning. I never realised that the UK’s coastline is so long.
Having bought some Christmas cards at the British Museum, I handed them back and searched until I had found what I wanted.
The message inside the first lot proclaimed, “Seasonal Greetings”, while the second said, “Merry Christmas”.
Apparently, there is sensitivity that reference to “Christmas” will upset Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. I could have told them when we were little boys at St Xavier’s in Patna, my parents saw to it that on Christmas Day, my two brothers and I trooped over to school on a holiday to hand over a card and a cake to the principal, Fr Murphy.