Sri Lanka v England, 1st Test, Galle, 2nd day

Murali's double whammy

The Wisden Verdict by Andrew Miller

December 3, 2003

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Muttiah Muralitharan: eager to take centre stage
© Getty Images 2003

Muttiah Muralitharan has been a muted presence on this tour. He was hardly required at Dambulla when England folded for 88, while another M - Monsieur Monsoon - has since dominated the headlines and dampened down the pre-series sparring. But on the very day that the rains finally abated, Murali was ready and waiting to leap onto centre stage.

He was so eager, in fact, that he jumped the gun. His astonishing batting rampage was the sort of onslaught that is threatened every time he lifts a bat, but is very rarely achieved. Andrew Flintoff couldn't help a surpressed smirk when Murali heaved and missed at his first short-pitched delivery - he would have seen such bravado in countless net sessions at Lancashire. But by the time Flintoff had been forced to post a long-stop (the first in Tests since the 19th Century?) to stem the flow of runs, England had lost their collective grin.

It had been a hard-earned grin as well. Up until then, everything that could have gone England's way had done just that. Richard Johnson once again demonstrated his carpe-diem tendencies with the big first-ball wicket of Kumar Sangakkara, which proved at last that his 15 wickets against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe were an accident of scheduling, rather than an opportunistic hit-and-run. Flintoff, meanwhile, recorded his best Test figures for 18 months, and even got the rub of the green with an lbw decision.

But from 240 for 7 at lunch, Sri Lanka rallied ominously, and with Murali already performing handstands on a second-day wicket, England may come to rue those misplaced runs. In the absence of Nasser Hussain, much - almost too much - rests on the current pairing of Mark Butcher and, in particular, Graham Thorpe, because what follows oozes potential, but little guaranteed substance.

As debutants go, Paul Collingwood is about as experienced as England could hope for, and he has already demonstrated his level-headedness in one-day cricket. As for Flintoff - well, anything is possible, and Murali's assault on his figures will only harden his resolve. But as he whirls his way towards England's tail tomorrow, every run that Murali stole today will count for double.

Andrew Miller, Wisden Cricinfo's assistant editor, is accompanying England on their travels throughout Sri Lanka.

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
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Players/Officials: Muttiah Muralitharan
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Teams: England | Sri Lanka
Tour Results
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Sri Lanka won by an innings and 215 runs
Sri Lanka v England at Kandy - Dec 10-14, 2003
Match drawn
Sri Lanka v England at Galle - Dec 2-6, 2003
Match drawn
SL BP XI v England XI at Colombo (CCC) - Nov 26-28, 2003
Match drawn
Sri Lanka v England at Colombo (RPS) - Nov 23, 2003
Match abandoned without a ball bowled
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News | Features Last 3 days