Australia v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Cairns, 5th day July 13, 2004

It's 527-all, as Sri Lanka hang on

Australia 517 and 9 for 292 dec (Hayden 132, Martyn 52, Chandana 5-101) drew with Sri Lanka 455 and 8 for 183 (Sangakkara 66, Warne 4-69)

Shane Warne took Australia to the brink, but couldn't quite deliver the final blow © Getty Images

Kumar Sangakkara played one of the innings of his life. Sri Lanka saw out the day and thwarted the world champions with two wickets to spare. Nobody noticed. For today was the day cricket achieved something that soccer, for all its money and street-cred and cheery simplicity, will never ever have: a 527-all draw. It was the day a great rivalry, between two great exponents of the greatest of arts, got greater still.

For four days and two sessions it had been a fascinating sub-plot, a distraction. And then, for one final session in fading light that lasted nearly three hours - though it felt like 17 - nothing else mattered. Could Shane Warne, out of rhythm and frustrated by a featherbed pitch, somehow conjure up the handful of wickets he needed to break Muttiah Muralitharan's world record?

It first became clear that the man was bigger than the game at precisely 11.52am, eight minutes before lunch, when the captain Ricky Ponting tossed Warne the ball. Immediately he had poor hapless batsmen propping tentatively. He landed his fourth ball after lunch in his favourite spot, half a foot outside off and just short of a length. Sanath Jayasuriya, like 523 batsmen before him, was unsure whether to play it or leave it. Ultimately he did a bit of both, the ball shuddered straight on and Adam Gilchrist made a difficult low catch look easy.

Warne's next wicket was three long hours in the making. Nerves jangled. Brows furrowed. The Warne entourage looked on stoically, Dad with arms folded and Mum nibbling on a packet of Snakes Alive. He widened his angle, mixed up his trajectory, tossed a couple of balls into the faraway rough outside off. One of these fizzed back awkwardly and socked Gilchrist in the face, breaking his nose.

Mostly, though, the pitch was too good, the turn too slow. So Warne bent down on his haunches, pawed the turf, rubbed his straggly goatee, glared at the batsmen. He grimaced in mock anguish at an eminently respectable defensive push. Anything to sow a seed of doubt. And then it happened. Romesh Kaluwitharana, leaning forward, got an inside edge on a faster, flatter legbreak and it ballooned to short leg. Wicket 525. And counting.

He was into the tail now, the hunt was on. Except that Sangakkara, realising this, stationed himself at Warne's end. He left alone or padded away whatever he could. Once he launched into an expansive drive and a thick edge looped slowly to Matthew Hayden, so slowly that he grabbed at it too early and it bubbled out of his hands. At the other end Upul Chandana flicked Michael Kasprowicz down the leg side, but Gilchrist, flinging himself to his left, couldn't hang on.

Frustrations simmered some more. Something special was needed. And lo, something better than special, something quite extraordinary, was delivered. It was not quite the ball that skedaddled Richie Richardson in 1992, or Mike Gatting in 1993, or Shiv Chanderpaul in 1997. But it drifted out then dipped in. It brushed the pitch and snapped back a foot. It tore straight through the gap between Sangakkara's bat and pad. It cuffed middle stump. And then bedlam.

It was five o'clock on the eastern seaboard but Channel 9 dilly-dallied in crossing to their game show The Price Is Right . They removed the batsmen's scores from the top left-hand corner of the screen, and superimposed the words: Muralitharan 527, Warne 526*. The asterisk was a symbol of faith, of adoration even.

Then all went quiet. A loud appeal against Chandana - for lbw? or a bat-pad catch? - was turned down. It was 5.25pm by now, and The Price Is Right could wait for nobody, not even the greatest legspinner the world has ever seen. Even ABC Radio, the old faithful, were sticking with their regular current-affairs programming in the big cities. Umpteen million Australians can remember sitting dumbstruck in front of the telly, Christmas 1981, and watching Greg Chappell pouch the catch off Larry Gomes's edge that carried Dennis Lillee sailing past Lance Gibbs's old world record of 309. A whole new generation of schoolkids were about to be denied the same sensation.

Or were they? Warne ripped another big legbreak. It spun across the batsman and Chandana's back foot slid forward. Gilchrist whipped off the bails. There was barely half a centimetre in it, but then that's all you need. That's all any world-record holder ever needed. Clarrie Grimmett, Alec Bedser, Brian Statham, Fred Trueman, Lance Gibbs, Dennis Lillee, Ian Botham, Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev, Courtney Walsh ... eat your hearts out. Muralitharan 527, Warne 527*.

Kerry Packer pulled the pin on the bottle-blonde contestant and the big spinning wheel. Back to the cricket, the light murkier by the minute. Nuwan Zoysa edged Jason Gillespie to second slip, Ponting spilled it and Warne - oh, glorious irony - failed to lay a finger on the rebound.

Finally it came to down to one last over. Darren Lehmann, at leg slip, appealed for a catch but was fooling nobody. Then one last ball. Chaminda Vaas blocked it. A shake of hands, some pats on the back, a standing ovation from a minuscule crowd.

And so the hosts were left with a 1-0 victory in this first series in Australia of the post-Waugh era. Indeed the spirit of Steve Waugh, a gum-chewing fixture in 29 of the previous 30 series down under, was notable today for both its absence and presence.

Sri Lanka's batsmen, convinced they could not win the game, batted so ultra-defensively it was as if there had never been an attacking revolution, as if the game had never known Waugh. The folly of their approach was highlighted when Thilan Samaraweera, yet to score, dabbed a ball to leg and sprinted off for a single, only for Damien Martyn brilliantly to throw down the stumps at the non-striker's end. Sri Lanka, having given no prior impression of being the least bit interested in runs, had just lost a batsman embarking on a hare-brained one.

Matthew Hayden on the attack en route to his 132 © Getty Images

Ponting, by contrast, borrowed straight from the Waugh textbook. In the first session he kept the field up and the plan simple: bowl McGrath from one end, Warne from the other. He delayed his declaration, giving his bowlers only 55 minutes to get stuck in before lunch, roughly half-an-hour less than every two-bob commentator and smart-alec former captain was insisting on. Pure Waugh.

Ultimately, perhaps, Ponting was too much on Waugh-alert, waiting until he had a lead of 354 when 320 was surely ample. Australia piled up 98 runs in 17 overs this morning, with Hayden thundering on to 132, becoming the eighth man in history to score a hundred in each innings of a Test twice.

The last 20 minutes, though, were essentially meaningless. Australia lost five for eight and Kaluwitharana snapped up three stumpings. Chandana, in ending up with 5 for 101 off 18.4 overs, was presented with one of the most extravagantly gift-wrapped ten-wicket hauls in Test annals. Those extra 20 minutes might have proved crucial to the outcome.

The outcome, of course, was shortly to lose all significance. By stumps, the two best men had won. 527-all. Long live the kings.

Christian Ryan is editor of Wisden Cricinfo in Australia.