Teenage prodigy steals limelight as Sri Lanka crush Bangladesh
Bangladesh may have lost by an innings for the second time in a fortnight, but they left Sri Lanka on a high after a scintillating hundred from a teenage prodigy, who booked himself a place in the record books as the youngest ever player to score a Test century.
The tourists had started the day on 100 for four, still 365 runs in arrears after the mauling they had received on the first two days. Everyone expected a quick death this morning, but the newest Test nation launched a brave fight-back, before they were eventually bowled out for 328.
Sri Lanka had won by an innings and 137 runs within three days, their highest ever victory in their 112-Test career, and booked themselves a place in the Asian Test Championship final in February 2002.
The day, however, will not be remembered for a predictable win in a one-sided contest, but Mohammad Ashraful's 114 off 212 balls.
The teenager, just 17 years and 63 days old (though he claims his passport gives his date of birth as 9th September - making him just 16), became the youngest ever player to score a Test century on debut, beating a 30-year-old record, which had been set by Pakistan batsmen Mushtaq Mohammad (17 years 81 days) against India at Delhi in 1960/61.
The diminutive right-hander was also making his debut, so he smashed the record for being youngest player to score a century on debut set by Zimbabwe's Hamilton Masakadza (17 years 354 days) in the second Test against the West Indies at Harare just two months ago.
He came to the wicket late last night and at the close he had scored just four. He admitted afterwards to having had strange dreams throughout the night: "I had difficulty sleeping last night as I dreamt about Lara's 375 and me scoring a century. I told my captain this morning and he told me I could do it, so I just decided to play positively."
He did just that during a 126-run stand for the fifth wicket with the experienced Aminul Islam, who had scored 145 in Bangladeshi's inaugural Test match against India last November.
Ashraful maintains that he did not feel under any pressure out in the middle and looked completely at ease at the crease. He had a couple of streaky moments along the way, when he sliced between the slips and should have been run out when he had made just 14, but he also played some brilliant strokes.
He played the faster bowlers well, pulling Chaminda Vaas for two fours in his second spell of the morning, but played the slower bowlers best, dancing down the track and impudently lofting them straight down the ground. Even Muralitharan wasn't spared, as he pull-swept high over mid-wicket and late cut the ball delicately.
Aminul was bowled on the stroke of lunch for 56, as he tried to sweep the left-arm spin of Sanath Jayasuriya, to leave Bangladesh on 207 for five and Ashraful on 68. He carried on in the same entertaining vein afterwards, however, and added 96 further runs with captain Naimur Rahman.
With the Sri Lankan fielders showing increasing signs of frustration Sanath Jayasuriya took the second new ball after 83 overs. Ashraful reached his century in the following over off 167 balls as he edged between third slip and gully for his 14th boundary.
The harder ball eventually did the trick for Sri Lanka, though, as Ruchira Perera picked up three quick wickets and Bangladesh lost their last five wickets for 25. Ashraful was eventually caught and bowled by Perera.
Fittingly, it was Muralitharan who sealed the match with a return catch off Mohammad Sharif to give him ten wickets in a game for the seventh time in his career. Only Richard Hadlee has done so on more occasions (nine).
More importantly, it meant that Muralitharan, who was playing his 66th Test, reached the 350 mark quicker than any other bowler in the history of Test cricket, beating the previous record of 69 matches set by Richard Hadlee.
Muralitharan will travel back to England for one more county game with Lancashire, whilst his team-mates take a welcome break after two tough months of cricket, their next assignment being a tri-nation series in Sharjah.