On December 3, 2007, Sri Lanka’s favourite son Muttiah Muraitharan sent the entire Island nation in a tizzy by breaking Shane Warne’s record of the most wickets in Test cricket. Bharath Ramaraj looks back at the memorable moment which would be etched in one’s memory forever.
The quaint charms attached with the peace and tranquility of the Asigirya International Stadium in Kandy carved into a hillside against the majestic backdrop of Kandyan Peaks and a giant seated Buddha, transports cricket romantics to the calm and silence of the quintessential English village cricket ground.
On the second day’s play of Test match between Sri Lanka and England on December 3 2007, the scenic and peaceful ground had suddenly transformed into a cauldron of bubbling tensions. The swelling crowd at Kandy waited with bated breath for its favourite son, Muttiah Muralitharan, to break Shane Warne’s record for the most Test wickets.
England’s batsmen keep Muralitharan at bay
Actually, at the start of the second day’s play, the English batsmen, with a typical British Bulldog Spirit, had kept Muralitharan at bay during his first spell. However, once England’s captain Michael Vaughan got out to the smiling assassin, the wickets started to tumble. Ian Bell, who was in imperious touch, lost his wicket to a marvellous catch by Chamara Silva at short mid-wicket off Muralitharan’s bowling. Kevin Pietersen was playing shots that bordered on the outer-limits of sheer arrogance. But he was taken care of by a wily piece of bowling from Muralitharan. The writer fondly remembers how the off-spinner had pitched a couple of deliveries outside Pietersen’s leg-stump from around the wicket, before tossing it up on a middle-stump line to deliver the coup de grace. Pietersen misjudged the line and padded to a delivery and was trapped plumb in front.
By the time Ravi Bopara succumbed to the wizardry of Muralitharan’s box of tricks, he had equaled Warne’s record of 708 Test wickets. However, as he was carrying the burden of the entire nation on his shoulders, even the Little Magician seemed to be succumbing to the burgeoning pressure. When it came down to him needing a single wicket to break the world-record, hearts pumped and jiggered against rib-cages, nails were chomped unknowingly and there was pin-drop silence in the crowd.
The reality-altering experience arrives for Muralitharan
On the third day, Paul Collingwood, known for batting with gladiatorial-like substance defended as though his life depended on every ball he faced from Muralitharan. Brick-by-brick, Collingwood was building an edifice to take England to a position of strength from where they could dictate terms. But Muralitharan was in no mood to let the Durham batsman to take the moment of glory away from him. Finally, the reality-altering experience arrived when Muralitharan, bowling from around the wicket, spun it past Collingwood to shatter his timber. In fact, the batsman had played down the wrong line, as he didn’t pick the delivery that went the other way. As Kandy’s favourite son, Muralitharan broke the world record, there was delirium all over the place. Firecrackers were burst amidst wild jubilation. The usually serene ground at Kandy had transformed into one big party.
On taking the wicket of Collingwood, Muralitharan told BBC Sport, “I tried to spin the ball and it went the other way, but that’s a special wicket.” About the huge milestone, he said, “It’s my hometown, my parents are here, my wife is here… all the relatives are here and all my school friends.”
Curiously, he could have broken the record during Sri Lanka’s tour to Australia itself. However, Australia was one place where Muralitharan had a tumultuous time. It was no different in 2007 when he took a mere 4 wickets at 100 apiece.
Chaminda Vaas’s 100th Test and Sanath Jayasuriya’s last
The match at Kandy also turned out to be Sri Lanka’s tireless workhorse, Chaminda Vaas‘s 100th Test and the flamboyant Sanath Jayasuriya’s last. Jayasuriya came out all guns-blazing in the second innings of his last Test to essay a thrill-a-minute knock of 78. It included him walloping England’s pacer James Anderson for six boundaries in a single over. Those were the days when Anderson was still known as a ‘Daisy.’ With Anderson inexplicably pitching the ball up every-time, on a wicket that was flat, shots rumbled through the willow of Jayasuriya. The ball kept travelling to the boundary boards at the speed of red-lightning from Jayasuriya’s adventurous horizontal-arc of his flashing blade. Actually, Anderson to his credit, tried to change the angle from bowling around the wicket to over, but to no avail.
At the other end of the spectrum, Vaas slipped under the radar in his 100th Test. The tireless workhorse though, made his presence felt by snaring five crucial wickets in the game. The big fish, Alastair Cook got out to Vaas twice in the match.
The Test match too turned out to be an edge of the seat cliffhanger of a contest. Matt Prior and Ian Bell, with downright dogged determination, seemed to have taken England to safe waters on the last day of the match. Suddenly, England harboured hopes of escaping from jaws of defeat like they did in 2003 at Kandy.
Unfortunately for England, a clatter of wickets right at the end of the day’s play saw them hurtling towards a defeat. The little magician, Muralitharan, was yet again the thorn in their flesh by taking the key wickets of both Bell and Prior. The crackerjack doosra he bowled to dismiss Prior would be remembered for years by cricket fans.
Even now, the Test match at Kandy is remembered for Muralitharan’s world-breaking glittering achievement. With millions of eyeballs glued to watching the Little Magician bowl, he didn’t disappoint them by breaking the record. In fact, the unbridled enthusiasm with which Muralitharan celebrated the wicket of Collingwood was akin to witnessing a football player’s celebrations after scoring the winning goal in a World Cup final.
Sri Lanka 188 (Kumar Sangakkara 92, Prasanna Jayawardene 51; Matthew Hoggard 4 for 29, Monty Panesar 3 for 46) and 442 for 8 decl. (Sanath Jayasuriya 78, Kumar Sangakkara 152, Mahela Jayawardene 65; Monty Panesar 3 for 132, Matthew Hoggard 2 for 55) beat England 281 (Ian Bell 83, Paul Collingwood 45; Muttiah Muralitharan 6 for 55, Chaminda Vaas 2 for 76) and 261 (Ian Bell 74, Matt Prior 63; Muttiah Muralitharan 3 for 85, Chaminda Vaas 3 for 56) by 88 runs.
Man of the Match: Kumar Sangakkara.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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