Former Sri Lankan captain, Arjuna Ranatunga has weighed into the Warnie v Murali debate with this argument:
"If you take the record, Murali has played fewer matches and Warne never had to bowl at the top-order batsmen... He always had McGrath and Gillespie to take wickets at the start. Warne would come in sometimes and clear the tail. If you look at Murali, he has to come on and take top-order wickets from the start."
OK, Ranatunga is obviously stretching the point to say that Warne never bowled at the top order, but what about his more general point that a higher percentage of Murali's wickets are specialist batsmen? Courtesy of Howstat, we see that 25.7 per cent of Murali's wickets have been top-order batsmen (1-3) and 42.6 per cent have been middle-order batsmen (4-7), compared to 23.0 per cent and 39.8 per cent for Warne.
Shane Warne's wickets by batting order
Muttiah Muralidaran's wickets by batting order
So, Ranatunga is right, but is that necessarily a good thing for Murali? The point I made in my last post on this subject was that Warnie's figures may have actually been harmed by bowling with McGrath and Gillespie, because it reduced his chances of picking up quick and easy wickets when they were there to be had. Warnie actually took a higher percentage of his wickets in the top order than, say, Stuart MacGill, who has also had to deal with the Australian fast bowlers grabbing quick wickets. Meanwhile, someone like Anil Kumble, whose bowling partners have not been as great, has figures that are more similar to Murali's.
Stuart MacGill's wickets by batting order
Anil Kumble's wickets by batting order
In other words, Murali's haul of top-order wickets may not be worth as much as Warnie's top-order wickets, because Warnie mainly took top-order wickets when they were hard to get. As I've said before, I doubt that this accounts for the whole difference between Warne's and Murali's records, but it's an argument that I think should be considered more closely.