ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

Sri Lanka v New Zealand, World Cup 2011, semi-final, Colombo

Murali's fitting run across the home stretch

Muttiah Muralitharan's final spell at home ended in fairytale fashion, much like his Test career in Galle last year. Just like back then, it would have been incredibly contrived had it not been for real

Sidharth Monga in Colombo

March 29, 2011

Comments: 45 | Text size: A | A

Muttiah Muralitharan salutes the crowd after completing his final spell in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka v New Zealand, 1st semi-final, World Cup 2011, Colombo, March 29, 2011
Muttiah Muralitharan's perfect home farewell would have been incredibly contrived had it not been for real © AFP
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"It would have been incredibly contrived had it not been for real," this reporter wrote on July 22, 2010, just having watched Muttiah Muralitharan end his Test career with a wicket off the last ball, No. 800, also the last wicket in the match. At 792 wickets, Murali had announced the Galle Test would be his last. If 800 happened it would be good; if 800 didn't happen, so be it. How could 800 not happen?

At his beloved Galle International Stadium, a ground he had help rebuild after the 2004 tsunami had ravaged it, there was a cloud coming from the distance, Lasith Malinga was off injured, Sri Lanka were racing against time to finish India off, and the last wicket had frustrated them for 15 overs. In his 27th over of the day, Murali produced the final wicket.

About a year later, having agreed to delay his ODI retirement for the World Cup, Murali had fought a hamstring injury, a side strain, a troublesome knee and groin when it was suggested that he be preserved for the final and not be risked in a home semi-final against New Zealand, not fancied to beat the hosts on a sluggish surface. Rubbish. There is no way you could keep Murali out of his last match at home. If he could stand straight, he would play. And play he did.

The build-up, as expected, was not as big as Galle. Firstly ODI cricket doesn't allow such elaborate farewells, and then Sri Lanka were just two matches away from a World Cup win, and this was just his last match at home, and not necessarily his last match. The relief around in Colombo was palpable when it was announced Murali was fit to play. Just enough, it turned out. For in the sixth over he went off the field, and came back in the 11th. Still Murali, clearly not at his best, even on one leg, is presence enough. As soon as he had spent the four overs on the field to become eligible for a bowl, Murali gave it a twirl.

Round the wicket he started, and landed the first ball on the spot. In his third over, a big offbreak, not the best delivery he has bowled to take a wicket, bounced on Jesse Ryder, and New Zealand's match-winner from the quarter-final was gone. The ascendancy gained, Sri Lanka went ahead to apply the squeeze, and once again it ceased being all about Murali. New Zealand rebuilt through Scott Styris and Ross Taylor, and then asked for the Powerplay in the 42nd over.

Murali was brought back in the second Powerplay over. Now a 20-year-old kid, playing his 19th international match, served a reminder that a bad ball from Murali is still a bad ball. It was a levelling over actually. Kane Williamson employed the old trick on the master: came down and lofted him over mid-off one ball, and rightly guessed a short ball next and rocked back to cut it for four. Nathan McCullum hit him for a six in his next over, the ninth.

Murali's last match at home could not have ended in a whimper. He had one more over left, majority of which was bowled to the set Scott Styris. The Premadasa Stadium was awake to it. The Sri Lanka flags were raised in the stands, it seemed like a single long Sri Lanka flag, as long as the stadium's circumference, ran across the stands. For old time's sake, perhaps, Murali went back to bowling from over the stumps. For one last over at home, he started bowling the big offbreaks, reminiscent of the pre-doosra days. He even bowled a wide that turned too much down the leg side. The fourth ball of the over turned sharply into the pads, Styris tried to nudge it for a single, but there was no way a nudge was going to beat the two men square on the leg side. Same with the fifth ball. He knew he was bowling to his field, and knew Styris would need to take a risk to score off him.

Styris, more experienced than Williamson, was showing more reverence; he would have experienced much more Murali wrath than Williamson. He just wanted to see Murali off, and would take the single if he got it in the process. Murali ran in for his last ball at home, and bowled a bit wide, turning it back in, and hitting Styris in front. LBW. A wicket that kickstarted a collapse of 4 for 4.

It would have been incredibly contrived had it not been for real.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Comments: 45 
Posted by   on (March 31, 2011, 5:36 GMT)

Did my dream came through well when I saw him first playing and I told my friends that he will break all the bowling records as well couple of years ago I used to go with the flag bearer Lionel to see the practices then I told Lionel he will retire with last ball wickets from test n ODI s well well so far good with test n last ODI at home n now my prayas are in the WC final n the final match first ball wicket n last ball wicket! Go MURA ! The Spider man even if u go from cricket world till the end of the world u will b in our hearts GOD BLESS YOU with all u r dreams as well for u r humanitarian work

Posted by KaZsa on (March 30, 2011, 12:21 GMT)

I have said this 100 times or more...but I want to say it again...You honour me by letting me see you bowl with my own eyes...Thank you Murali for living in my era...I will tell my grand kids how I saw Murali the wizard weave his magic.....And One more push Murali...One more push...Lets bring it home....

Posted by   on (March 30, 2011, 11:57 GMT)

Gosh……MURALI….probably the greatest sportsmen to have ever represented Sri Lanka at any sport. Very much a humble and genuine human being be it in defeat or a win he never sacrificed principle etiquettes in so called gentlemen's game. A Tamil by decent and a true LEGEND who helped in uniting Sri Lanka on a sports field. Thank you Murali, we will miss you for sure………..!!!

Posted by stormy16 on (March 30, 2011, 10:51 GMT)

What a bowler, what a competitor, what a cricketer but mosst of all what a man. Humble to date and never hoggs the limelight or fame - just plays for the team and has he ever said anything nasty to anyone despite all the crap thrown at him. SL will miss Murali as there can never be another Murali and what he has done for SL even in his last game highlights what a legend he is. Styris' sicket at time was vital to ensure NZ didnt get to 240+. We will miss this true legend of the game and best wishes with the various projects to promote the game.

Posted by   on (March 30, 2011, 8:42 GMT)

I come from where he comes from'' kandy''. Murli is loved by all walks of lives of our nation. he is a perfect example of ethnic harmony. Every Sri Lankan loves him every Sinhalese loves him for what he has done to our motherland. Unarguably The greatest Tamil compatriot ever and he will always be in our hearts.

Posted by gmsjgmsj on (March 30, 2011, 7:39 GMT)

The Twirl, the Smile and a Gentleman

A mischievous grin breaks out at the run up. Its a loopy run to the crease, eyes wide open, the facial muscles mirroring the extraordinary twirl of the wrist and the spin revolutions imparted on the ball.. The ball is released, the eyes are opened wider, the honest smile comes to that cherubic face again. You don't often see that smile in modern cricket. Bowlers swearing at parentage of batsman-yes. Bowlers spitting at their colleagues -yes. Bowlers remonstrating with umpires like spoilt children -yes. But with Murali, he does it at every juncture - whether be a wicket, a big hit or a dropped sitter.

Maybe we'll see other spinners who will go on to break the 800 barrier. But I doubt if we would see them doing it with half his humility.

Who says nice guys don't win? Gentlemen like Murali do !

Posted by ArunaGm on (March 30, 2011, 6:51 GMT)

Murali each and every sri lankan love you more than any person in our motherland, we are so lucky and so proud because you are a sri lankan..... Your smile, ur pride ur kindness will remain forever with us... For sri lankans you're our Legend... We love you so much Murali....

Posted by Gathika on (March 30, 2011, 6:09 GMT)

He is the best bowler ever produced by world.Those wickets to his name are majorly the top order batsmen.Because he was used against them.........Yet he is the highest wicket taker.

Posted by   on (March 30, 2011, 5:41 GMT)

Sri Lanka salutes you Murali! What I like best about you is how much you gave of yourself OFF the field! That's why you're such a great man. So much achieved and yet so humble. You and Sachin are probably the greatest ALL-ROUNDERS ever to have graced the game! May you live long and continue to fly Sri Lanka's flag far and wide.

Posted by RanF on (March 30, 2011, 5:18 GMT)

Murali is SL cricket. When he started his playing for SL in 90's it was then SL became the fighting team. Around him all the achievments SL got. Sadly there will be no Murali. He was and will be the greatest bowler, cricketer and sporting humble human being in cricketing world ever see.

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