Muttiah Muralitharan is undoubtedly one of the greatest cricketers to have embraced the game of cricket. Very few cricketers spun the cricket ball like the way Muralitharan did; the spin wizard was widely reckoned for this magnificent quality of his and had a lethal googly in his armoury. He is the highest wicket-taker in Tests for his tally of 800 scalps in 133 outings at 22.72. Also, he has the most five-wicket and ten-wicket hauls in Test cricket and many more records. Picking 800 Test wickets is astronomical, and no bowler other than Muralitharan has achieved this extraordinary feat. Muralitharan got to the milestone dramatically and there wouldn’t have been a better script than the way he did.
Prior to the start of India in Sri Lanka Test series in July 2010, Muralitharan announced his desire to retire from the longest format of the game after the opening Test at Galle. Before the start of the game, Muralitharan had 792 wickets to his name and needed eight more to script history and reach the 800 landmark. Muralitharan was unplayable at home but picking eight wickets in the ultimate game of his Test career was always going to be a challenge.
Sri Lanka won the toss and opted to bat first, Indian cricketers congratulated Muralitharan before taking the field. Riding on Tharanga Paranavitana and Kumar Sangakkara’s century, Sri Lanka declared their innings at 520 for 8 with Rangana Herath being unbeaten on 80. For India, debutant Abhimanyu Mithun was the pick of the bowlers with four Sri Lankan wickets to his name. Two frontline Indian spinners- Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha went wicketless after delivering 58 overs between them. The second day of the Test match was a complete washout but Sri Lankan batsmen did well in steering their side to a commanding position.
The onus was on India and the stage was set for Muralitharan to make the most of it. India got off to a shaky start, losing Gautam Gambhir early. Rahul Dravid looked good but was unfortunate to have been run out on 18. Dravid’s dismissal brought Sachin Tendulkar to the crease. Muralitharan leaked runs in his first two overs but bounced back emphatically in his third. He trapped the Master Blaster leg before as Tendulkar missed a full delivery while attempting a sweep. India were in deep trouble and Muralitharan inched a step closer to the milestone with 793 wickets to his name.
On the next day, Virender Sehwag went to score one of his finest Test centuries. MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh were trying to steady the Indian ship after Sehwag and VVS Laxman’s dismissal. Muralitharan broke the partnership by scalping MS Dhoni’s wicket with a beauty. Moments later, in fact, in the very next over, Muralitharan induced an outside edge off Yuvraj Singh’s willow and picked his 795th Test wicket. Most importantly, he got rid of three key Indian batsmen as the visitors were struggling at 259 for the loss seven wickets. Muralitharan continued his good run and went on to claim his 67th fifer in Test cricket. He got rid of Pragyan Ojha and then cleaned up Abhimanyu Mithun with his stock delivery. India were bowled out for 276 and Muralitharan made headlines.
Sri Lanka enforced the follow-on and Indian openers walked out to bat again. Muralitharan was three steps (wickets) away and by looking at the way things have fared for him so far, it was pretty much predictable that he will achieve the landmark with ease. But things turned out differently. Lasith Malinga and Chamara Welegedara accounted for first four Indian wickets and put the visitors on the back foot. Malinga got the better of Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar while Welegedara had the prized wicket of Virender Sehwag to his name.
Muralitharan had bowled 18 overs without tasting any success in the second innings. But just when the stumps on Day 4 was around the corner, Muralitharan finally reaped fruitful result for his hard work. He once again produced an outside edge off Yuvraj Singh’s bat to claim his 798th Test wicket. India ended Day 4 at 181 for 5 and Muralitharan being just two wickets away.
On the final day, MS Dhoni fell early to Lasith Malinga after which, Muralitharan caught Harbhajan Singh leg before and moved a step closer to the magical number. VVS Laxman and Abhimanyu Mithun did well in putting up a fight. Malinga once again chipped in with a wicket as he removed Mithun for 25. Laxman continued his resistance Ishant Sharma stepped up at the other end. The duo added 68 runs between them after which, Laxman was unlucky to have been run-out on 69. India were nine wickets down and Muralitharan, on the other end, needed just a wicket.
Pragyan Ojha and Ishant Sharma did well in confronting the Sri Lankan bowlers and showing immense resistance. There was tension, there was drama. It could have been anybody’s wicket but Sri Lanka and many fans wanted it to be Muralitharan’s. He kept trying. He kept on bowling, he changed ends but Ojha and Ishant looked determined. After bowling 44 overs, which was also the most in Sri Lanka’s innings, the wait was eventually over on the fourth delivery of the 45th over. Ojha edged one to Mahela Jayawardene at first slip and there was a celebration at Galle. Muralitharan engraved his name in the history of cricket with gold as he became the first man on the planet to have 800 wickets to his name.
India set a target of 95 for Sri Lanka to chase in the second innings and their openers ensured they gunned it down convincingly. Tillakaratne Dilshan came out all guns blazing and plundered a brisk 68 off 47 deliveries as Sri Lanka chased down the target inside 15 overs and 10 wickets intact. Muralitharan received accolades from across the globe and bid a memorable farewell to Test cricket and this day will certainly be remembered for generations in Test cricket.