File picture of Muttiah Muralitharan shows him on the hunt © Getty Images
On January 4, 2002, Muttiah Muralitharan came agonisingly close to picking up all 10 wickets in an innings, a feat only two other bowlers in Test cricket can boast of. The last wicket fell to Chaminda Vaas, but not before a catch was dropped and a close lbw appeal was turned down off Murali’s bowling. He finished with figures of nine for 51 – his best in Tests.
Karthik Parimal looks back at that eventful day.
It wasn’t an ideal stage for Zimbabwe to walk into. Having been comprehensively beaten by hosts Sri Lanka in the first Test just a few days earlier at Colombo, Stuart Carlisle and his men would have hoped for an auspicious beginning to the year 2002. On the other hand, Muttiah Muralitharan, who was the leading wicket-taker in both Tests and One-Day Internationals in the year 2001, had no intentions of slowing down. Moreover, the second Test of the series was scheduled to be played at Kandy – Murali’s home ground. Little did the visitors know what was to follow.
The Zimbabweans were by no means a formidable side, but they weren’t pushovers either, for they had the likes of the Flower brothers, Heath Streak, Carlisle and Henry Olonga at their disposal. Douglas Marillier and Travis Friend were tenacious characters too. Having won the toss, they immediately opted to bat, since it was ominous to make last use of a crumbling Kandy wicket on the final days of the Test. Spin is always a factor in the subcontinent, more so in Sri Lanka, and days when wickets fell only to spinners weren’t that rare. January 4, 2002 presented one such instance. Nine Zimbabwean wickets fell during the course of the first day’s play, and Murali accounted for each one of them.
It was a stupendous performance that left the opposition baffled by close of play on the first day. Zimbabwe, who were hanging by the thread at 234 for nine in their first innings were steamrolled by the magical fingers of Murali. He finished the day with figures of nine for 51 from 39 overs, and there was little doubt that he’d bag the scalp of the last remaining batsman the next morning. However, cricket has its own ways.
Chaminda Vaas, who was consistently bowling wide of off stump in order to let Murali pick a wicket from the other end, managed to find the edge of Olonga’s bat, and it was a catch that wicket-keeper Kumar Sangakkara couldn’t possibly drop. With that went Murali’s hopes of becoming just the third man in the history of Tests to take all ten wickets in an innings. Had Russel Arnold held on to the regulation bat-pad chance that came in the first over of the second day bowled by Murali, the latter would have surpassed Jim Laker’s record of 10 for 53 against the Australians in 1956. In the fifth ball of the same over, umpire Srinivas Venkataraghavan turned down an lbw appeal in favour of Travis Friend, thereby denying him joy again. Thereafter, the innings was wrapped up by Vaas.
Although Murali fell agonisingly short of a world record, the fact remains that absolutely nothing can be taken away from his performance. Not many bowlers can boast a best of nine-for beside their name, whereas Murali has achieved this feat twice. The first time was against England in 1998, at The Oval, where he finished with figures of nine for 65.
Here is how the Zimbabweans fell like ninepins to Murali on the eventful day.
Wicket #1 – Trevor Gripper tries to sweep a delivery that pitches outside off stump, but only manages to get an inside edge. The ball ricochets of his boot and Mahela Jayawardene at slips takes a simple catch.
Wicket #2 – Hamilton Masakadza misses a straighter one by trying to play on the leg side. The ball crashes into the stumps and Zimbabwe lose both their openers in a span of just five overs.
Wicket #3 – Having faced eight deliveries for no run, Gavin Rennie tries to use his feet to get off the mark, misses and Sangakkara dislodges the bails from behind. Zimbabwe find themselves in a spot of bother at three for 51.
Wicket #4 – The big fish, Andy Flower. Quite similar to Gripper’s dismissal, however, the ball carries to Sangakkara this time around. Murali’s figures now read 7-3-14-4.
Wicket #5 – Skipper Carlisle fails to offer resistance. A delivery that pitches outside off stump, turns back in, hits the batsman – who tries to play on the back foot – on the pads. Zimbabwe now lose half their side for just 83 on the board.
Wicket #6 – After a partnership of 54 between Craig Wishart and Grant Flower, Murali dismisses the former with a delivery similar to the one that resulted in Carlisle’s wicket and traps him right in front of the stumps. Murali now has figures of six for 25.
Wicket #7 – Heath Streak must have realised the importance of treating every delivery with respect after this one. He tries to pad away a ball, but only manages to drag it back onto his stumps. After scoring just one, he makes the long walk back. Grant Flower remains stranded at the other end.
Wicket #8 – A classic off-spinner’s dismissal. The ball pitches outside off, turns back in to find the gap between bat and pad before disturbing the timber. Douglas Marillier is put out of his misery as Murali registers figures of 23.4-14-27-8.
Wicket #9 – After putting up a brave front in the face of adversity, Grant Flower is bowled at 72 while trying to sweep a ball that sharply turned in.
Murali finishes the day with figures of 9 for 51 from 39 overs, and the last wicket sadly continued to elude him. Nevertheless, he scripted a performance that will forever be etched in the minds of many.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)