Muttiah Muralitharan yesterday completed a remarkable Test career in the only way suitable: by taking a wicket with his final ball to move to a once unimaginable career total of 800 victims. Indian tail-ender Pragyan Ojha was caught by Mahela Jayawardene as the Sri Lankan established a record far beyond that achieved by any bowler in Test history. It is highly unlikely to be challenged at any time in the near future.
That Muralitharan's final act hurried Sri Lanka towards victory over India – and a 1-0 lead in the three-match series – seemed unimportant in the context of the 38-year-old's achievement. The entire day at Galle had been about Murali's pursuit of 800, an objective that looked destined to end in success when, just 15 deliveries in, he trapped Harbhajan Singh lbw for his 799th dismissal in 133 matches.
That left India teetering on 197 for 7, and it seemed certain that the 800th dismissal would come soon. But first Abhimanyu Mithun fell, lbw to Lasith Malinga, and then VVS Laxman was run out by Angelo Mathews.
Now there was just one wicket to fall. Would Murali be left stranded on 799? He switched ends again and again, desperately seeking a moment of inspiration. It came with the fourth ball of his forty-fifth over: Ojha, tempted outside the off stump, was brilliantly caught by Jayawardene at first slip.
The celebrations were long and heartfelt as fireworks went off overhead. The Sri Lankan's team-mates ran to embrace the off-spinner before carrying him shoulder high to the dressing room. Afterwards, he played down his achievement. "Galle is my favourite ground and this is the opportunity I was waiting for to win the match and finish it nicely," he said. "My knee is not that great to bowl 50-60 overs, I thought. There are good young spin bowlers and you won't miss me much."
He added that victory had been the most important thing. "I told my captain [Kumar Sangakkara] to somehow get the wickets," he said. "Had the match ended in a draw it would have been very sad. At that moment we would have taken even a run out."
Shane Warne, next on the all-time wicket-takers list with 708, said Murali's record would stand the test of time. "I don't think anyone will get there, so well done to Murali," he said.
"The way he's gone about it has been amazing. There's been a lot of controversy about his action but at the end of the day the ICC [International Cricket Council] cleared him, he's allowed to play, and what he did with the ball was amazing."
Sri Lanka took little time in reaching a total of 95 runs for victory. They got there shortly after the tea interval with Tillakaratne Dilshan racing to 68 not out and Tharanga Paranavitana unbeaten on 23.
Murali said that while his Test career was over he would still play in the shorter forms of the game. "I spoke to the selectors and I have told them that I'm available for the World Cup if they need me," he said. "I'd like to keep playing Twenty20 cricket as well."
Top 10 test wicket-takers
M Muralitharan (SL) 133/22.72/800
S K Warne (Aus) 145/25.41/708
A Kumble (India) 132/29.65/619
G D McGrath (Aus) 124/21.64/563
C A Walsh (WI) 132/24.44/519
Kapil Dev (India) 131/29.64/434
Sir R J Hadlee (NZ) 86/22.29/431
S M Pollock (SA) 108/23.11/421
Wasim Akram (Pak) 104/23.62/414
C E L Ambrose (WI) 98/20.99/405
Final day of five: Sri Lanka beat India by 10 wickets; Sri Lanka won toss
Sri Lanka: First Innings 520-8 dec (N T Paranavitana 111, K C Sangakkara 103)
India: First Innings 276 (V Sehwag 109; M Muralitharan 5-63)
India: Second Innings (following on) Overnight 181-5
VVS Laxman run out (Mathews) 69/0/5/127
*† MS Dhoni b Malinga 4/0/1/5
Harbhajan Singh lbw b Muralitharan 8/0/1/14
A Mithun lbw b Malinga 25/0/5/59
I Sharma not out 31/0/4/106
P Ojha c DP Jayawardene b Muralitharan 13/0/1/50
Extras (b 5, lb 9, w 2, nb 8) 24
Total (115.4 overs) 338
Fall (continued): 6-186, 7-197, 8-246, 9-314, 10-338.
Bowling S L Malinga 17-2-50-5, U W M B C A Welegedara 10-2-43-1, H M R K B Herath 27-3-60-0, A D Mathews 7-3-13-0, M Muralitharan 44.4-7-128-3, T M Dilshan 10-1-30-0.
Sri Lanka: Second Innings
N T Paranavitana not out 23/0/5/127
T M Dilshan not out 68/0/1/5
Extras (w 1, nb 4)/5
Total (0 wkts, 14.1 overs) 96
Did not bat *KC Sangakkara, DP Jayawardene, TT Samaraweera, AD Mathews, †HA Jayawardene, HM Herath, M Muralitharan, SL Malinga, U Welegedara.
Bowling A Mithun 5-0-33-0, I Sharma 4-0-28-0, P P Ojha 3-0-11-0, Harbhajan Singh 2.1-0-24-0.
Umpires D J Harper (Aus) & R J Tucker (Aus).Reuse content