Move aside, Rohan Kanhai! Muttiah Muralitharan is here! © Getty Images
Move aside, Rohan Kanhai! Muttiah Muralitharan is here! © Getty Images

Muttiah Muralitharan. The name conjures up an image of an innocent, winsome smile, a pair of wide open, piercing eyes as he reaches the delivery stride, the controversial angle of his right elbow, the wonderfully flexible wrist, the ever-spinning ball on release, the off-spinner, the doosra, and other subtle variations in flight, length and direction. With all his prodigious bowling performances and records, the one thing that is not usually associated with the Murali magic is his bat. READ: When Muttiah Muralitharan broke Shane Warne’s record

Well, not any more. It seems that in all his time in Test cricket, the ever-smiling Murali has been adding another surprising dimension to his already brilliant game. This time, though, with his bat, the second unexpected string to his bow. The whole thing sounds quite unreal until one looks at the numbers. Who was it that had said “there are lies, there are damn lies, and above all, there are statistics”? The numbers here have certainly given Murali a batting boost, and have demonstrated a batting record that many other well recognized wielders of the willow would like to have been the proud custodians of.

The following chart is based on data from research by the highly respected Melbourne based cricket statistician and historian, Charles Davis, and depicts a very interesting situation. These are the 26 instances, till date, where a batsman has hit the very first ball he has faced in a Test innings (in whatever batting position he has batted) for a six:

Sixes hit off first ball faced in a Test innings:

Batsman Bowler Team Against Venue Season Comments (1) Comments (2)
George Ulyett Tom Garrett England Australia SCG 1881-82
Tim Wall Dick Tyldesley Australia England Trent Bridge 1930
Foffie Williams Jim Laker West Indies England Kensington Oval 1948 Hit second ball for six as well
Hines Johnson Bob Berry West Indies England Old Trafford 1950
Ron Archer Johnny Wardle Australia England Adelaide Oval 1954-55 (unconfirmed)
Frank King Ron Archer West Indies Australia Sabina Park 1955 Out second ball (probable)
Neil Adcock Johnny Wardle South Africa England New Wanderers 1956-57
Antao D’Souza Len Coldwell Pakistan England Lord’s 1962
Vanburn Holder Barry Knight West Indies England Headingley 1969
John Jameson Keith Boyce England West Indies Sabina Park 1974
Greg Chappell David Steele Australia England Lord’s 1975
Gus Logie Mohinder Amarnath West Indies India Sabina Park 1982-83
Ian Botham Craig McDermott England Australia Edgbaston 1985
Aravinda de Silva Kapil Dev Sri Lanka India SSC 1985-86 First ball of team innings
Sanath Jayasuriya Phil Tufnell Sri Lanka England SSC 1992-93
Chris Cairns Nehemiah Perry New Zealand West Indies Basin Reserve 1999-00
Muttiah Muralitharan Shaun Pollock South Africa Sri Lanka New Wanderers 2002-03
Paul Wiseman Kumar Dharmasena New Zealand Sri Lanka P Sara 2002-03
Brian Lara Brett Lee West Indies Australia St John’s 2003
Muttiah Muralitharan Irfan Pathan Sri Lanka India Feroz Shah Kotla 2005-06
MS Dhoni Pedro Collins India West Indies St Kitts 2006
Graeme Smith Zaheer Khan South Africa India Newlands 2006-07 First ball of team innings
Peter Fulton Mohammad Ashraful New Zealand Bangladesh Dunedin 2007-08
Muttiah Muralitharan Chris Martin Sri Lanka New Zealand Galle 2009
Shakib Al Hasan Pragyan Ojha Bangladesh India Mirpur 2009-10
Morne Morkel Daniel Vettori South Africa New Zealand Basin Reserve 2011-12
Zaheer Khan Tim Southee India New Zealand Chinnaswamy 2012
Chris Gayle Sohag Gazi West Indies Bangladesh Mirpur 2012 First ball of Test
Sachin Tendulkar Nathan Lyon India Australia Chepauk 2012-13  Hit second ball for six as well
Junaid Khan Rangana Herath Pakistan Sri Lanka Sharjah 2013-14
Mark Craig Sulieman Benn New Zealand West Indies Sabina Park 2014 First ball of Test career
Brad Haddin Mohammed Shami Australia India SCG 2014-15
Brendon McCullum Stuart Broad New Zealand England Headingley 2015

As can be seen, the list boasts of many very illustrious names.

The first incident goes way back to the early, faltering steps of Test cricket, and predated the only Test at The Oval, London in August 1882, the Test that gave rise to the Ashes legend. It involved George Ulyett and Tom Garrett. One must remember that this took place at a time when six runs were awarded for situations where the ball dropped beyond the boundary ropes without bouncing within the actual field of play first.

In the cases of Aravinda de Silva and Graeme Smith, the sixes were off the first balls of the respective innings. The Chris Gayle six was off the very first ball of the Test, the only such instance in the entire history of Test cricket till date, and off the first delivery bowled in Test cricket by the unfortunate and hapless debutant Sohag Gazi.

What had made Sachin Tendulkar’s two consecutive sixes off the first two deliveries he had faced in the 4th innings of the Chennai Test against Australia in 2013 special was the fact that he had also hit two fours off the first two consecutive deliveries he had faced in the Indian first innings of the same match, off James Pattinson.

Although there had been much contemporary media excitement about the formidable feat in the Chennai Test of 2013 performed by the perennial Indian idol, Tendulkar, his feat of sixes off the first two deliveries faced was not a unique phenomenon and there had been a precedent in history, from a much lesser-known player, who had gone a step even further and had combined Tendulkar’s efforts in two innings in a single batting display.

Ernest Albert Vivian ‘Foffie’ Williams, primarily a fast-medium bowler, was playing in the first Test against England at Kensington Oval in January 1948, somewhat by chance, as a stand-in for Frank Worrell, who had pulled out with food poisoning. Williams, armed with his exotic nickname, walked out at No. 7 in the West Indies second innings, and immediately put the England attack to the sword, hitting 28 runs from the first 6 balls he faced, with 6, 6, 4, 4 off the first four balls bowled by Jim Laker (no less) and two more fours off the next two deliveries he had faced, off Jack Ikin. That was his only purple patch, his well-deserved place in the sun in the 4 Tests he played, though he had also taken 3 for 51, his best figures, in the England first innings of this same Test.

Murali, then, is seen to be the only man to be present more than once on the above chart, even in such exalted company, rubbing shoulders, as it were, with the like of Ian Botham, Greg Chappell, and Brian Lara, all household names where batting is concerned, with three entries.

In the Johannesburg Test of 2002, he had scored 10 from the 3 balls he had faced, aided by the six off the first ball, bowled by South African captain, Shaun Pollock. Pollock must have been quite bewildered by the whole thing; a four followed soon.

Murali’s second entry, in the Delhi Test of 2005, was in an effort of 9 runs from 7 deliveries faced with a six off the first ball faced, from Irfan Pathan.

His final fling was against “The Phantom”, no less, in the Galle Test of August 2009. In a contest where both principal protagonists could easily have vied for the position of “the most impossible batsman”, Murali went one up by hitting the first ball, bowled by Chris Martin, for 6 in his 5-ball 8.

The great thing is that one can readily imagine that bright and mischievous smile of delight on his face on each one of these momentous occasions, perhaps musing on the improbability or even impropriety of the action. When all is said and done, however, these bravura performances must have had people like Virender Sehwag and Sanath Jayasuriya, to name just two, shaking their heads in the wonder of it all. The polite and oft-spoken Murali had thus made three thunderous statements to the detractors of his batting credentials.

Bravo, Murali, take a bow!

(Pradip Dhole is a retired medical doctor with a life-long interest in cricket history and statistics)