Murali stands at the very top - Bell

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Ian Bell, Muttiah Muralitharan & Sri Lanka

Muttiah Muralitharan, top right, rips one through a set Ian Bell at Kandy in 2007, sending Sri Lanka on the way to a decisive victory

England batsman Ian Bell has hailed Muttiah Muralitharan as “the best bowler I’ve ever faced” after the Sri Lankan master spinner announced he is set to retire from Test cricket.

Bell confronted the off-spinner during England’s tour of Sri Lanka in 2007 and enjoyed a degree of success with three half-centuries in the series, but he was also dismissed four times by Murali.

In the first Test at Kandy, Bell was England’s standout batsman with 83 and 74, but came a cropper to Murali in both innings as Sri Lanka went on to take a decisive 1-0 lead in the series.

Bell said: “To be honest Murali is the best bowler I’ve ever faced.

“He certainly made you work hard for your runs and there was always a challenge.

“But, as well, as a bloke he was always someone who had a smile on his face as well when you played against him.

“He never really had a go at you properly but in a way he was trying to take the mickey out of you in a way because you couldn’t pick him.

“In those conditions in Sri Lanka, it was hard work to score runs against someone of that quality. He is a fantastic cricketer.”

Muttiah Muralitharan

England captain Andrew Strauss added: "He was a magician with the ball"

Muralitharan reserved his very best for England, taking 112 of his 792 Test wickets against them in just 16 matches.

He claimed four 10-wicket hauls against them in his career, at The Oval in 1998, Galle in 2003, and Edgbaston and Trent Bridge in 2006.

His unforgettable 16-220 to win the one-off Test in 1998 earned Sri Lanka their first Test victory in England.

Bell added: “Murali and Shane Warne are both up there in terms of being world-class spinners.

“It is a shame the game is going to miss another world-class spinner.

“I am sure the England guys will all say he was one of the hardest bowlers to face.”

Bell was speaking after scoring 158 for England Lions against India A at New Road before joining back up with the senior squad for the forthcoming one-day series with Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, England captain Andrew Strauss has hailed the retiring Muralitharan as a “magician”.

Strauss said: “He’s been an absolute legend of the game. With a lot of these legendary players, it’s their longevity that’s as impressive as anything.

“He was able to take wickets in all sorts of conditions all over the world for long periods of time, and that consistency of performance, the ability to keep putting it in time after time, marks him as different from most players in the world.

“It’s a sad day but he can look back at his career and say, ‘I’ve done okay there.’

“He was a magician with the ball and it was always a challenge to know first which way the ball was turning, and then secondly how to score runs off him, and there are 792 people out there that struggled.”

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