Sri Lanka cricket July 25, 2012

Murali's 709th

In 2007, I headed to Sri Lanka for the England's three-Test series. It has always been a favourite place of mine to photograph and watch cricket

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In 2007, I headed to Sri Lanka for the England's three-Test series. It has always been a favourite place of mine to photograph and watch cricket. Kandy was hosting the first Test, and is particularly enjoyable. I do love going to work in the back of a tuk tuk.

The build up to that Test was all about one man - Muttiah Muralitharan, who was only five dismissals short of breaking Shane Warne's world record of 708 Test wickets. There were huge photos of Murali around the ground and everyone was well aware of how close he was to becoming No. 1.

It was very important to me to capture that 709th wicket, and if I could capture the moment he broke the record from two positions, all the better. I usually use two cameras at Test matches - as well as having a long lens at ground level, I normally place a remote camera with a shorter lens in a high position. The remote camera should take a photo every time the button is pressed on the manned camera. Notice I used the word "should". Kandy is quite an unusual ground and didn't have any obvious spots straight down the wicket where a camera could be clamped or placed.

On the second day of the Test, Murali dismissed England's Michael Vaughan (705), Ian Bell (706), Kevin Pietersen (707), and Ravi Bopara (708) and everyone thought it was a matter of time before the big moment arrived. The day ended with Murali one wicket away from the record.

On the third morning, I noticed a thin pole attached to the outside of the press box. I realised that if I stood on a wall and managed not to fall 25 feet to the ground, I would have a good straight angle at quite a good height to hopefully get a photo of Murali's next dismissal. I stood on the wall and attached my camera to the pole without too much of a problem.

Thirty overs had passed since Murali equalled Warne and he eventually achieved his record-breaking 709th wicket when he bowled Paul Collingwood. Murali's face lit up and he leapt in the air, performing an enthusiastic high-five with a team-mate. The images I took from my long lens at ground level were adequate but not great. I was very keen to see what my second camera had captured.

It was pretty difficult to retrieve the card from the camera - in the couple of hours since I'd put it up, I'd developed a slight fear of falling 25 feet from a high wall. After a few minutes, however, I had it back down. Fortunately, it was worth it. Remote cameras cannot be relied upon to work all the time for a number of reasons and there were not as many photos of the celebration as I expected. Luckily, the camera had continued to shoot till the high-five and the last frame was pretty much the moment I wanted. The angle was good and Collingwood is visible striding off to the dressing room without obscuring any of the Sri Lankans. I was pleased with the photo and happy with my days produce. I had been lucky, very lucky in fact as I didn't fall off that wall.

There is always luck involved in getting good photographs as I've mentioned a few times before. This was brought home to me the next day. I'd been looking at a nearby hill and thinking that shots of the ground from up there with possibly with a couple of Buddhist monks in the foreground might be worth the climb. I grabbed some equipment and climbed up the hill.

It took about 15 minutes to get to the top and when I looked down at the ground I could see that the game had come to a halt. I could see the big screen from my vantage point and I noticed that it was showing Monty Panesar lying on the ground. Then other players were shown on the screen lying on the ground, and also the umpires. What the heck was going on?

At the time, Sri Lanka was having a civil war. I concluded that there might be a sniper on the loose and that the players were lying down trying to avoid being shot. How lucky was I to be standing on top of a hill half a mile away if there were bullets flying about?

I wasn't lucky; there were no bullets. A swarm of bees had decided to buzz across the ground and the newspapers loved the photographs of the players lying on the ground. They weren't my photos of course as I was standing on a distant hill. So I was lucky on the Monday and chose the wrong time to leave the ground on the Tuesday. Yin and yang?

I spoke to Collingwood in the hotel soon after his dismissal and tried to convince him that it was a positive thing that he was now part of history. Wasn't it better that he was dismissed by Murali than by Vaas or Malinga? I think it may have been too soon for Colly to agree.

The rest of the tour was great fun. After the Kandy Test finished, I visited the Luckyland biscuit factory which was being run by Murali's father. I've still got a couple of unopened packets of bourbon creams in my cupboard, which gives me a great head start when I build my cricket museum.

Slightly less enjoyable was the evening a soldier with a machine gun demanded to see my passport, which I didn't have on me. Since then I've always carried my passport in my pocket. It's amazing how having a gun pointed at your chest can change you forever.

Specifications: Canon EOS-1D Mark II, lens 80-200mm at 185mm, aperture f13, shutter speed 1/800th, ISO 250

An Australian freelance cricket photographer based in England, Philip Brown has photographed over 150 Test matches around the world

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