Murali makes history as Zimbabwe fall apart
Sri Lanka 541 beat Zimbabwe 199 and 102 (Zoysa 5-20) by an innings and 240 runs
He had to wait longer than expected, but, at 1.51pm local time, Muttiah Muralitharan took the record-breaking 520th Test wicket as Zimbabwe capitulated to an innings defeat on the third day of the first Test at Harare.
Murali finally achieved what the world, and Sri Lanka in particular, had been waiting for. Mluleki Nkala, Zimbabwe's top-scorer with a defiant 24, pushed forward to an ordinary offbreak, and the ball brushed the pad onto the bat and then up to silly mid-off, where Mahela Jayawardene dived low to take the crucial catch.
It was Murali's magical moment, taking him ahead of Courtney Walsh in the hall of fame. The magnificent feat overshadowed what was Zimbabwe's heaviest ever defeat - an innings and 240 runs. Today's pounding easily beat the innings-and-219 run defeat against South Africa in 1999-2000.
The crowd of about 400 did not fully appreciate the significance of the moment, but out in the middle there were celebrations all the way. While he remains a humble and enthusiastic man who enjoys his cricket, Murali was the toast of Sri Lanka. He picked up one more scalp, with the next ball he bowled, taking a sharp return catch himself to dismiss Alester Maregwede for 22, but in doing so he split his finger and had to leave the field. That delayed his chance of taking what would have been an astonishing hat-trick.
It was a rather anticlimactic situation as far as the match was concerned, because there had been little real competitive edge against two such ill-matched teams, and at the time, Zimbabwe were quickly subsiding towards their innings defeat as tea approached. Wilting at 18 for 5, they only avoided their lowest-ever Test total of 63 thanks to the fighting partnership of 45 between Nkala and Maregwede. However, apart from that stand, and another last-wicket spree, Zimbabwe were outclassed.
The opening stand reached the dizzy heights of 13, thanks to a rather frenetic innings of 11 from opener Stuart Matsikenyeri, who was caught by Mahela Jayawardene at slip off Nuwan Zoysa in the fourth over of the innings (13 for 1). Murali came on for the fifth over, just before lunch, to see if he could take his vital wicket then. He failed, but Dion Ebrahim, perhaps distracted by the excitement, played a loose hook off Zoysa, and Prasanna Jayawardene, the wicketkeeper, took an easy catch to make Zimbabwe 15 for 2 at lunch.
Murali did not get to bowl immediately after the break, but when Chaminda Vaas grabbed a wicket, and Zoysa nicked out two more in quick succession, Marvan Atapattu, the captain, realised he had better get Murali back on while there were still easy pickings to be had. But, in the end, it took Murali another eight overs to claim his record.
Again Zimbabwe's last pair, Douglas Hondo and Tinashe Panyangara, played positively to delay the inevitable. Murali returned in the hope of completing a hat-trick, but the vital delivery was short and wide, and Panyangara lashed it through the covers for four. Four balls later he swung Murali high over long-on for six to bring up Zimbabwe's hundred, before holding out to Jayawardene at long-on off Sanath Jayasuriya to end the match. Zoysa took 5 for 20 - his first five-wicket haul in Tests - but the Man of the Match was, surprise surprise, Murali, with figures of 8 for 82 in the match.
It took Zimbabwe well over an hour to wrap up the last three Sri Lankan wickets in the mornong, thanks mainly to an entertaining and boisterous last-wicket partnership of 45 between Zoysa and the effervescent Murali.
Vaas, failing to play himself in, was out in the second over of the day for his overnight 28, skying a hook off Blessing Mahwire to Matsikenyeri (457 for 8). Farveez Maharoof played some impressive strokes, showing considerable batting potential, as he made 40 before Mahwire brought a ball back off the pitch to trap him lbw (496 for 9).
Murali, as usual, was looking for the big hit from the start. He evaded the fielders and got away with two miscued hooks, but hit a straight six that went through the open door of the Keg and Maiden, the English-style pub that occupies the clubhouse, shattering the glass in a cabinet. He made a flamboyant 26 off 29 balls before Tinashe Panyangara, who bowled with impressive maturity and intelligence, deceived him with a slower ball and he holed out to Maregwede on the midwicket boundary (541 for 10).
His partner, Zoysa, who also played impressively with more orthodox shots, was unbeaten on 28. Panyangara finished with 3 for 101 and Mahwire, 3 for 97, but went at more than five an over.
The prospects for a better match in Bulawayo are not great, as the gulf between the Sri Lanka first team and what is basically no more than a Zimbabwe third team is massive. Despite the enthusiasm of their young players and the promise shown by some of them, Zimbabwe are likely to suffer continued humiliation until, or unless, they resolve the issues on a permanent basis with the dissident players.