GALLE, Sri Lanka, (Reuters) – Muttiah Muralitharan captured his record 800th test wicket with the final ball of his career yesterday as Sri Lanka cruised to a 10-wicket victory after finally breaking India’s stubborn resistance.
Requiring 95 for victory, the hosts reached their target shortly after tea on the fifth and last day with Tillakaratne Dilshan racing to 68 not out and Tharanga Paranavitana unbeaten on 23.
However the final stages of the weather-interrupted test, which lost a day to rain, belonged to off-spinner Muralitharan who ended India’s second innings in typically flamboyant style.
The 38-year-old leading wicket-taker in tests and one-day internationals dismissed Pragyan Ojha to become the first man to pass the 800 mark in a fitting finale to a brilliant career, with his family cheering him on from the stands.
Murali, though, was more concerned with victory than reaching his personal landmark.
“Eight hundred is only a number. We wanted to get the wickets quickly. You never know in Galle with the weather, winning the match was the important thing,” he told reporters after taking three for 128 in the second innings.
“I wouldn’t have minded if it (the record) didn’t come. My only scare was when paceman Lasith Malinga (five for 50) had to go off the field.”
Last man Ojha, acrobatically caught by Mahela Jayawardene at first slip for 13, was the final wicket to fall as India totalled 338, his dismissal setting off wild celebrations among Sri Lanka’s players and fans.
Murali’s unique feat, which is unlikely to be matched, was greeted by fireworks and his team mates all ran to hug the spinner before carrying him shoulder high to the dressing room.
He enjoyed a second lap of honour the moment Dilshan blasted a six over long-on to give Sri Lanka a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Murali said he had quit at the right time.
“I have played for 18 years and I thought there are three other good spinners in the side,” he said. “They are 24-25 years old and I am 38.
“I thought it’s better to give them a chance. I have nothing more to achieve.”
Earlier, Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa flew in by helicopter to watch a few minutes of play and spoke to Murali and the rest of the team.
Murali went into the final day of a 133-match test career needing two wickets to retire with 800 victims and it took him just 15 deliveries to trap Harbhajan Singh lbw for eight.
India, who had resumed on 181 for five and 63 runs short of making the hosts bat again, survived more than an hour of the afternoon session before Murali dismissed Ojha in his 45th over of the innings.
At lunch, Murali remained frustrated as Sri Lanka faced stubborn resistance from India’s Vangipurappu Laxman.
Laxman navigated his side through the opening session with 58 not out as lunch was taken on 292 for eight, the batsman doing well to withstand the pace of Malinga and Murali’s spin to save India from an innings defeat.
When play began India knew it would be a massive task to avoid defeat and they got off to a terrible start when they lost skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Harbhajan cheaply inside 20 minutes.
Dhoni was yorked by the imperious Malinga for four and Harbhajan was trapped by Murali as he tried to sweep a straight ball. Debutant Abhimanyu Mithun joined Laxman in an eighth-wicket stand of 49 to hold up Sri Lanka’s victory charge before Malinga removed Mithun lbw for 25 to capture his fifth wicket.
Murali changed ends often in search of his elusive wicket but Laxman and Ishant Sharma kept him waiting until the former was run out for a fighting 69 to leave a pair of tail-enders at the crease.
Dhoni said: “We all know the kind of bowler Murali is and we all know how tough cricket can be. To get the last wicket with two tail-enders batting he had to bowl 25 overs and that was one of his toughest spells.
“Eight hundred wickets in tests and more than 500 in one-dayers. It will be really tough for anyone to break that kind of record.”