There was a certain irony to the ball that took Muttiah Muralitharan past Shane Warne's haul of 708 victims to become the highest wicket-taker in the history of Test cricket. In the 15 years since his debut Muralitharan has been one of the fiercest-ever spinners of a cricket ball, yet the delivery that struck the top of Paul Collingwood's middle and off stumps, to send the whole of Sri Lanka in to rapture, did not deviate one inch.
It was bowled at 11.54am local time from round the wicket and, rather than spin sharply back in to the right-handed Collingwood as intended, it skidded past the outside edge of his defensive grope to hit its target.
On hearing the sharp rap of ball striking ash Muralitharan performed a little jig in delight before being mobbed by ecstatic team-mates. As Sri Lanka celebrated, firecrackers began exploding in the front garden of a house on a hill overlooking the Asgiriya Stadium, the venue where Muralitharan learnt his trade 20-odd years ago. A group of children from his old school could be seen jumping with joy under the scoreboard, too.
Collingwood had fought so hard to keep Muralitharan out and there was a pained expression on his face as he left the field. In time he will look back on the moment with fondness and pride. It will bring him fame, as the answer in a great number of pub quizzes for many years to come, and he will be remembered in the same way as Eric Hollies, the leg-spinner who bowled Donald Bradman for nought at The Oval in his final Test innings to deprive him of a Test average of 100. Hollies was involved in a historic moment when a record that is unlikely to be broken was set and Collingwood has surely done the same.
It is extremely hard to put Muralitharan's achievement into context because the figures are simply mind-boggling. To many Warne will remain the finest spin bowler the game has ever seen but Muralitharan beats him and virtually every other bowler in every statistical column, whether it be average, strike rate, five- and 10-wicket hauls or economy rate.
There will be curmudgeons who think he is nothing more than a chucker, even though his action has been scrutinised more closely than any other bowler in the history of the game and he has passed every test.
Murali's magical moment is enough to make any Test memorable but it was only part of another enthralling day of cricket. Having finally bowled England out for 281, a total that gave the tourists a first-innings lead of 93, Sri Lanka then marched on to 167 for 2 before bad light once again brought a premature end to proceedings.
The defiance of Michael Vandort, who made 49, and Sanath Jayasuriya, who struck six consecutive fours in a James Anderson over and later announced his retirement from Test cricket, allowed the hosts to move 74 runs ahead of England, a position that gives them an excellent chance of going 1-0 up. Chasing a total of more than 200 against a team containing the world's best bowler is a huge challenge.
England will be disappointed to find themselves in such a position after twice being in control. On the first day, after dismissing Sri Lanka for 188, the game was there to be taken, as it was on Sunday when Michael Vaughan and Ian Bell were putting together a second-wicket stand of 107. Even yesterday, after stretching their first-innings lead to 93, it was the tourists who were in the box seat.
But on each occasion England have failed to drive the advantage home. Vaughan's side have made mistakes, but credit, too, must be given to Sri Lanka for fighting their way back into the match.
The third day began with it appearing inevitable that Muralitharan would take the record-breaking wicket. England had other ideas. Collingwood and Ryan Sidebottom batted beautifully, seeing off a nine-over spell from Murali and adding 57 for the sixth wicket. The pair's obduracy forced Sri Lanka to take the second new ball, a decision that broke the partnership.
The pace of Lasith Malinga found the outside edge of Sidebottom's bat but not before he had posted a Test best of 31. England's batting coach, Andy Flower, has set each of his lower-order batsmen the challenge of batting for a minimum of 40 balls; Sidebottom fell to the 81st he faced.
A couple of clubbed boundaries off Chaminda Vaas hastened the reintroduction of Murali. And then with the fourth ball of a new spell, and with his 58th of the day, he deceived Collingwood to claim his crown. Matthew Hoggard became Murali's 710th victim when he overbalanced sweeping and was stumped. James Anderson was adjudged lbw to Vaas.
Anderson played a pivotal role in the afternoon's entertainment but it was a period of play he would rather forget. Jayasuriya had given little indication he was about to cut loose; up until then he and Vandort, his opening partner, had been models of restraint. But a series of drives, dabs, pulls and a fortunate edge through Bell's fingertips at first slip allowed him to become the second Test bowler to concede a full house of fours. Brian Lara holds the record for the number of runs struck in a Test over, striking Robin Petersen for 28 in Johannesburg in 2003-04. Anderson is the third member of England's bowling attack to concede 24 in an over Chris Gayle struck Hoggard for 24 at The Oval in 2004 and Adam Gilchrist did the same to Monty Panesar during last winter's Ashes. And in the dressing-room England have a bowler who was whacked for six sixes at the Twenty20 Championships Stuart Broad.
Hoggard ended Jayasuriya's fun when he trapped him lbw on 78 and Anderson finished the day on a positive note when he had Vandort expertly caught at slip by Bell. Further wickets will have been needed this morning if England are to avoid defeat.
l Kevin Pietersen has a cracked bone in his right hand that prevented him fielding yesterday but he will be able to bat.
Scoreboard from Kandy
Third day; Sri Lanka won toss
Sri Lanka First innings 188 (K C Sangakkara 92, H A P W Jayawardene 51; M J Hoggard 4-29).
England First Innings
(Overnight: 186 for 6)
P D Collingwood b Muralitharan......... 45
204 min, 121 balls, 3 fours
R J Sidebottom c HAPW Jayawardene b Malinga......... 31
96 min, 81 balls, 3 fours
M J Hoggard st HAPW Jayawardene b Muralitharan (TV replay)......... 15
35 min, 23 balls, 2 fours
J M Anderson lbw b Vaas......... 9
20 min, 17 balls
M S Panesar not out......... 2
11 min, 6 balls
Extras (b6 lb1 w2 nb11)......... 20
Total (415 min, 93.1 overs)......... 281
Fall: 1-0 (Cook) 2-107 (Vaughan) 3-132 (Bell) 4-170 (Pietersen) 5-182 (Bopara) 6-185 (Prior) 7-242 (Sidebottom) 8-266 (Collingwood) 9-272 (Hoggard) 10-281 (Anderson).
Bowling: Vaas 18.1-3-76-2 (nb2) (7-3-18-1, 3-0-16-0, 5-0-26-0, 3-0-16-0, 0.1-0-0-1); Malinga 20-2-86-1 (nb9,w2) (5-1-20-0, 6-0-34-0, 9-1-32-1); Muralitharan 35-14-55-6 (3-2-2-0, 29-12-47-4, 3-0-6-2); Jayasuriya 2-0-9-0 (one spell); Fernando 18-2-48-1 (6-1-18-0, 12-1-30-1).
Sri Lanka Second Innings
M G Vandort c Bell b Anderson......... 49
220 min, 143 balls, 3 fours
S T Jayasuriya lbw b Hoggard......... 78
145 min, 106 balls, 10 fours, 1 six
K C Sangakkara not out......... 30
79 min, 58 balls, 3 fours, 1 five
*D P M D Jayawardene not out......... 0
4 min, 5 balls
Extras (b5 lb5)......... 10
Total (for 2, 225 min, 52 overs)......... 167
Fall: 1-113 (Jayasuriya) 2-166 (Vandort).
To bat: L P C Silva, J Mubarak, †H A P W Jayawardene, W P U C J Vaas, C R D Fernando, S L Malinga, M Muralitharan.
Bowling: Hoggard 11-3-28-1 (6-2-15-0, 5-1-13-1); Sidebottom 11-2-22-0 (5-1-10-0, 2-0-5-0, 4-1-7-0); Panesar 18-1-53-0 (17-1-52-0, 1-0-1-0); Anderson 9-2-50-1 (6-2-36-0, 3-0-14-1); Bopara 3-1-4-0 (one spell).
Umpires: Asad Rauf (Pak) and Aleem Dar (Pak).
TV replay umpire: T H Wijewardene.
Shot of the Day
Sanath Jayasuriya had just struck James Anderson for six boundaries in an over. Matthew Hoggard then dragged one a little short and Jayasuriya, in a flash, pulled the ball over square leg for six.
Ball of the Day
Lasith Malinga could have had Matthew Hoggard out on several occasions with magnificent away swingers. One in particular would have been too good for any batsman on either side.
Moment of the Day
It has to be Muttiah Muralitharan passing Shane Warne to become the highest wicket-taker in Test history. He plays with a smile and the sight of him claiming a victim is one of the finest in sport.