Murali lacks bite in record chase
Adam Gilchrist extended his world record for striking sixes, but unless Muttiah Muralitharan conjures a second-innings miracle that might never happen he will leave Australia without the mark he is destined to hold for decades. Murali has not been able to conquer Australia in the same way Shane Warne could not dominate in India. It is a strange omission on a spectacular resume and one that will provide fuel for Murali's critics whenever they dissect his career.
He arrived in Australia a couple of weeks ago with the aim of showing his remarkable talents to a largely dismissive audience, even if it did not result in him capturing the nine wickets needed to pass Warne's 708. In the first two Tests he has been Sri Lanka's best bowler, but earning a haul has been as tricky as getting a straight answer about his action from Warne.
It is a shame Murali's tour will be remembered for his outburst at Warne. The reaction to Warne's column was swiftly followed by an all-smiles launch of the Warne-Muralitharan Trophy before more doubt emerged over the pair's publicly cosy relationship. His rapport with the Australian supporters has also been uncomfortable and the Hobart fans jeered him regularly through his 46 overs.
Figures of 1 for 140 don't reflect the problems he gave the batsmen. In both Tests he worked on first- and second-day surfaces and still created discomfort for the Australians, who were willing to attack him in bursts but generally preferred caution. Only Ricky Ponting has been fallible, giving him two of his three wickets in the series, and Murali must be the only bowler in the world to want more overs at him.
It is likely Ponting will be the man to decide whether Murali is able to continue his trudge towards Warne's record with the benefit of a worn pitch. Even Mahela Jayawardene used "if" when talking about Murali's chances of another bowl.
If Ponting is able to enforce the follow-on Murali's last Test over in Australia will probably have included consecutive sixes. Gilchrist slog-swept both of them, with the second one resulting in his 100th six and a lost ball. It would be a sadly appropriate conclusion to Murali's time in Australia.
While Murali never took off here, Gilchrist has rarely struggled with his trajectory. In Brisbane he missed batting in a Test for the first time in Australia as his team-mates harvested 551, which was nine more than they achieved today. The rust was clear in the two streaky fours to third man that opened his innings, but he was quickly fluttering as purposely as the flags above the members' building.
A pulled six off Lasith Malinga set him up to overtake a limping Andrew Symonds before he became the first man to launch a century of sixes. He has held the record since last year - Brian Lara is second on 88 ahead of Chris Cairns (87) and Viv Richards (84) - and Matthew Hayden is the closest playing threat with 79.
After registering his half-century from 58 balls, Gilchrist finished in a hurry after tea to speed up the declaration. Murali kept skipping in to deliver and in his 46th over watched Gilchrist slap him over midwicket. The follow-through of the next shot was stronger and the ball headed towards Church Street before the umpires classed it as lost. The moment was a collector's item for Gilchrist, but for Murali it could have provided a dreary end to his unhappy adventures in Australia.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo