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July 25, 2005
Murali had spent the entire week fighting off the flu, sipping Samahan's, Sri Lanka's herbal flu tonic, throughout long nights in a desperate bid to regain his strength for the second innings. Chaminda Vaas, the man of the series, was sidelined with a hamstring pull, so Sri Lanka needed Murali at his best, especially with so much rain in the air. During the first innings, suffering from dizziness, he bowled surely his worst-ever spell, sending down a trail of long hops before admitting defeat and returning to his bed. But his strength had been revived by this morning.
It would, however, be a mistake to read too much into his 8 for 46 and the 14th ten-for of his career; just as it would be unfair to be too harsh on West Indies' young batsmen, most of whom rarely face quality spin back home and none of whom, except Shivnarine Chanderpaul, have tackled one of the most potent spinners in history before. Many better and experienced players have struggled against Muralitharan on his homegrown pitches. Nevertheless, they were, quite frankly, clueless, unable to pick his variations and all at sea against his doosra. Their only answer was to lunge forward, trying to smother the spin. Mahela Jayawardene had a field day at silly point.
At lunchtime, on 24 for 1, it looked like the match would go into the final day. The dark clouds were swirling around the stadium and further interruptions were expected. As Ryan Ramdass (23) and Runako Morton (9) crept the score up to 38 for 1, a few press hacks reconfirmed their hotel rooms for another night. But then things started to happen. Morton, looking to work to leg, was trapped plumb in front with the doosra. Four overs later Ramdass and Sylvester Joseph both propped forward hesitantly and were dispatched. West Indies were 49 for 4 and the hotel switchboard was jammed.
Chanderpaul and Narsingh Deonarine, one of few bright lights for the West Indies in the game, held up the victory march for a while, playing with wristy skill against the turning ball. Deonarine even had the gall to clunk one flighted delivery from Muralitharan into the orange shrubbery of the Mayfair trees on the boundary edge. But when Rangana Herath separated them, courtesy of another bat-pad catch from Jayawardene, the softer underbelly of the lower order was exposed. It was curtains for West Indies. Muralitharan tore through the lower ranks and walked off with a wide contented grin on his face.
There are still many who fear that the double operation on his shoulder signals the start of his decline. But both operations were actually not major affairs. Fluid was drained and the surgeon cleaned up his tendons, which were suffering from some wear-and-tear. Had he not been so eager to return for the tsunami fundraiser in January he could have been back on the field weeks earlier. The first few games at Lancashire left his shoulder sore and aching, but Muralitharan is now pain-free. More importantly, he insists he has re-captured his best form. Tougher challenges now lie ahead against India in the Indian Oil Cup and his performances in that tournament will provide a better barometer of his true form.
There had been some bumps along the way, but Sri Lanka had achieved their objective of a 2-0 sweep. The top order failed to fire in unison, but all the batters showed glimpses of improved form. Even Marvan Atapattu, who scored 4, 28, 17 and 19 and failed to make the any of the big hundreds we have come to expect, especially against the weaker teams, played some strokes in the second innings that showed him to be in fine touch. Sanath Jayasuriya, too, was looking good before a peach of a delivery in the second innings from Jermaine Lawson. Despite their relatively unimpressive statistics in the series, the batsmen will start the Indian Oil Cup confidently.
West Indies, meanwhile, will have to quickly brush off any mental scars. They, too, should not be disheartened. After all, they had pushed Sri Lanka harder than their senior peers three years before, a series that was lost 3-0. As one senior Caribbean journalist remarked: "When we do play the so-called stars we get walloped anyway."
This star-less young squad showed greater enthusiasm and team spirit than West Indies of recent years. Even when they jogged onto the field at the start of a session, you could see a different vitality, keenness and togetherness. Yes, they were bad, very bad, but at least they showed the kind of guts, heart and selflessness that West Indies cricket needs to rebuild after such a fractious few years.
Charlie Austin is Cricinfo's Sri Lankan correspondentFeeds: Charlie Austin
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