Muralitharan claims landmark wicket

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The Independent Online

Muttiah Muralitharan today became Test cricket's most prolific bowler when he claimed his 709th career wicket.

Thirty-five-year-old Muralitharan went wicketless in his initial nine-over spell at Asgiriya today but sparked huge celebrations when he bowled Paul Collingwood in the first over of his return.

That took the Sri Lankan beyond Shane Warne's career haul and secured a 61st five-wicket haul in Test cricket.

Murali's colleagues mobbed him in the middle after a delivery bounced to clip Collingwood's middle-stump in the 89th over of the innings.

Fireworks exploded in the stands to celebrate the achievement of hometown hero Murali, who has held the record once before - when he surpassed Courtney Walsh's tally of 519 wickets in 2004.

England were bundled out for 281 not long after the historic moment as Matthew Hoggard was stumped down the leg-side to provide Murali with number 710 and James Anderson was adjudged leg-before to Chaminda Vaas.

The Sri Lankans left the field 93 runs in arrears and Muralitharan was immediately presented with a trophy to mark his achievement.

Earlier his wait to become Test cricket's leading wicket-taker was extended by a determined England batting effort on the third morning.

Thwarted by the wet weather on the second day of the opening Test, Muralitharan proved unsuccessful for more than one hour and Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene was forced to turn to the new ball for a breakthrough.

It did the trick as a stubborn seventh-wicket stand between Collingwood and Ryan Sidebottom was terminated in just the third over.

Sidebottom struck a Test-best 31, which represented the lion's share of a 57-run alliance, but perished when a thick outside edge was well held, diving forward, by wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene.

Then, shortly before midday, the bounce of the new ball accounted for Collingwood.

Muralitharan drew level with previous number one Warne yesterday with four wickets before a huge deluge washed out the latter half of the second day's scheduled play.

Surprisingly few locals turned up in anticipation of today's landmark, although those that did clapped his every delivery as he practised on the outfield prior to the 10am start.

Sidebottom, the first member of England's lengthy tail, put the tourists into credit with an on-drive for four off Dilhara Fernando in the opening over of the morning.

Having begun on 186 for six, a deficit of two runs, England made steady progress as Collingwood showed trust in his partners.

Sidebottom survived one Murali over last night and fought gamely, striking only the third boundary off the off-spinner in the innings when he whipped the ball through midwicket, which also brought up the team's 200.

England's lower order have been challenged to bat for 60 balls an innings by the team management in a bid to eke out precious runs in support of the batsmen.

Sidebottom surpassed that target in moving past his previous best of 26 not out while Collingwood became increasingly adventurous as the innings drew on.

Improvising against Murali, he cut off his stumps for one boundary and deftly reverse-swept a three towards the end of 22 overs of defiance alongside Sidebottom.

Muralitharan admitted he was glad that his record-breaking wicket had come on home soil, rather than in the recent tour to Australia.

"It is the right timing," he told Sky Sports.

On the wicket that gave his record, he added: "That's a special wicket. It was not meant that way because I tried to spin the ball and it didn't spin."

Asked if there was a highlight within his Test career, Muralitharan replied: "The highlight was in England when I took 16 wickets at the Oval (in 1998) because it made people think that I was a good bowler and one who could take wickets overseas as well as at home."