Muttiah Muralitharan will begin his final Test match tomorrow needing eight wickets to become the first man to reach a total of 800. Cold statistics suggest he will fall just short.
But then Muralitharan has spent an entire career cocking a snook at what is perceived to be possible and otherwise. When Sri Lanka have needed something special he has usually provided it.
He insists the first Test (of three) against India in Galle tomorrow will be his last. He has taken 792 wickets, 84 more than the bowler in second place, Shane Warne. The record may never be broken simply because geniuses do not come along that often and Test match cricket is contracting not expanding.
But his obvious intention is to take the eight wickets he needs to reach an unreachable total, making a nonsense of that priceless response from Fred Trueman when he took his 300th wicket, the first to do so, 36 years ago and was asked if it could be repeated. "If anyone does, they'll be bloody tired," said Fred.
So is Muralitharan, tired perhaps of the constant wear on his bowling shoulder and wrist, tired too of carrying Sri Lanka on his back. Galle is one of his favourite grounds – next only to his home turf of Kandy for the weight of his returns. In 14 matches there he has taken 103 wickets, an average of 7.3 a match, just under what he requires.
Muralitharan has taken eight or more in six of them but has not done so for four matches.
There is immense intrigue among cricketers for his participation alone. On being told that Muralitharan was quitting after the match, a distinctly odd time to go with two matches of the series left, the Australian batsman Michael Clarke said: "How many wickets has he got, 792? He's confident then, one more Test."
One more strange aspect of the feat, should he achieve it, is that it will probably be witnessed by a mere smattering of spectators. Test cricket is not a game that the Sri Lankans queue to watch, record breakers or not.
India provide tough opposition. They are the No 1 ranked Test side and Murali has not always prospered against them. His 97 wickets have come at a rate of 33 each compared with his overall average of 22. Both sides have plenty of batting strength. India may have the bowling to prevail in the series but that is hardly the point of its opening match.Reuse content