Sri Lanka v India, 1st Test, Galle, 4th day July 21, 2010

Murali delivers on a big occasion, again

It is only natural to feel some nerves going into your final Test, ending 18 years of as many ups as downs. But Murali remained unfazed and did what he does best

A man who averages 24.48 in 34 ODI tournament finals, conceding runs at 4.1 an over, cannot be accused of not having a sense of occasion. And his farewell Test has been some occasion. You can't escape the farewell Test. The road from the team hotel to the ground, some 40km along the coast, is full of Murali posters. The Galle International Stadium is full of Murali: banners, cut-outs, messages, an electronic countdown to 800 wickets, the works. The Galle Fort overlooking the stadium has two giant Murali cut-outs. Every cricketer who has spoken in public has been asked to pay tribute to Murali. There have been guards of honour, 21-gun salutes, his family has been on the TV camera most of the time.

It is only natural to feel some nerves going into your final Test, ending 18 years of as many ups as downs. Memories must have flown, he must have thought of his future. In between, there was a Test match to be won. There were fears if the farewell would distract the team. Would he himself be able to concentrate and bring his best for one last time, especially given his recent lean form? This man, however, has left worse distractions, worse pressures, behind when walking on to the field to represent Sri Lanka. "Boss, when I go out, I don't think about these things," he says. "My job is to get batsmen out, I think about that only."

And get batsman out he did on his penultimate day of Test cricket. Also on display was the big offbreak that seems to have gradually become smaller ever since he began bowling the doosra. The way he got MS Dhoni's wicket is any offspinner's dream. Dhoni had not just come in - he had his eye in, having scored 33. The ball drifted away from him, dipped too, Dhoni's feet played the original line, the bat went chasing the ball, and then it spun, spun big, through the gate, kissing the inside edge, not enough to alter its track, and found the stumps.

Inexplicably Murali had been kept away from action for 17 overs in the morning. Even after Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman were had, Kumar Sangakkara let Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni settle. Even Tillakaratne Dilshan was used before Murali. It was as if he was being set a challenge - do it from here, with India just 105 short of saving the follow-on. He didn't start off too well, bowling two long hops in his first over, which were duly dispatched by Dhoni.

Soon, though, came that magic ball. With the sight of tail in, Murali squeezed into the door left ajar. We were right up Murali's alley, with runs on board, no hope of a win for the opposition, the batsmen uncertain. Of all the times in the world, you don't want to face Murali at such a time. Yuvraj, who had played well for his 52, was drawn out, he wasn't sure which way the ball would turn, had to play at it, and Mahela Jayawardene hardly ever drops those edges off Murali.

The tail was easy for Murali. Pragyan Ojha wasn't the first batsman poking at one outside off, fearing the doosra, edging it away. For Abhimanyu Mithun he produced the sharp offbreak again, finishing his 67th five-for. "You have to ask him if felt any nerves," Trevor Bayliss, Sri Lanka's coach, said. "But this is the first time I've seen Murali showing a bit of emotion after taking those five wickets. Throwing his arms in the air... I'm sure he's happy with the way he's gone so far in the match."

In the second innings, perhaps the age showed. The trajectory got flatter, more doosras were bowled than the big offbreaks. Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, although for not enough time from India's point of view, batted expertly, denying Murali for long. The ball, though, doesn't know how old you are. Murali stayed at the batsmen for 18 long overs. Whatever might have happened earlier in the day, there was no way that in dying light, anybody else was going to bowl the last over of the day.

In the 13th over of that spell, Murali got Yuvraj in similar fashion as in the morning. This one was pitched middle and off, he had to play at it, it spun away sharply, Jayawardene was there again, with his fingers under the dying ball. Murali is having some drink for the road.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 23, 2010, 7:29 GMT

    Murali you are a legend! So Modest and skilled. You deserve it. Well Done.

  • Dummy4 on July 22, 2010, 15:20 GMT

    Murali, u are a great champion. We will miss u for sure

  • JIGNESH on July 22, 2010, 11:58 GMT

    Muralitharan chose this match will be his last despite he needed 8 wickets to reach 800, and he was struggling to take wickets from last some matches. But he knows the opponent team is India who always be helpful to the players what they need. Once upon a time, Andrew Flower had respected average (Mid 40) in Tests, India gave him a chance to cross the average above 50+ in single series. When Ponting also had a respected average in ODIs until 2003 World Cup final, after Ponting made century in that match and became the successful and master all the way until now. Moreover, when Misbah Ul Haq was struggling to stay in Pakistan cricket averaged under 30, one single series against India in 2007, made him hero and saved couple of Test matches by blasting couple of notout centuries. Two months ago, the Zimbabwe cricket was struggling to keep their International status in cricket, India defeated twice against them in Triangular Series and gave them a moral support - "DON'T WORRY WE R WITH U"

  • Tency on July 22, 2010, 11:13 GMT

    We will miss u...Murali....sure no one can ever fill ur leave... Great lagand ... atlast he got da 800 but he only what a person.. Hats off........Murali...

  • Rajat on July 22, 2010, 10:51 GMT

    Me Being an INDIAN and A cricket MANIAC bow my head and salute TO THE LEGEND ...Thanks Murali for all you have given to the world cricket .....God less U Man...TC

  • sunny on July 22, 2010, 10:50 GMT

    i luv to eat humble pie:)......srilankans made us indians eat that today......but must say i m really happy for murali.well done.nobody can emulate ur achievements........btw u suggested harbhajan can achieve tht forgive me but did u leave ur brains at home when u made tht statement.......btw pragyan ojah will be rememberd for being ur 800th victim if nothing else:)........have a gr8 life ahead

  • Ishan on July 22, 2010, 10:29 GMT

    So...the 'ordinary' team gets beaten..ho..hum..

  • Dummy4 on July 22, 2010, 10:25 GMT

    Congrats Murli disappointed abt ur retirement.... U far better dan other offies

  • Ayesh on July 22, 2010, 9:54 GMT

    Thanks being who you are.... a great cricketer and an amazing person..... All the very best for the future.

  • A on July 22, 2010, 9:34 GMT

    Well done Murali. You have been an absolute pleasure to what over the last decade and a half. I'm 30 years old, so during my entire cricket watching phase, there have been some phenomenal names that I've seen from virtually the beginnings of their careers right into their prime. Lara, Tendulkar, Murali, Warne, Wasim, Waqar & they have been absolutely sensational to watch. Murali is right up there and I think I would rate him the greatest spinner of all time, unparalleled. Warne is a close second, but Murali is the real deal. A true fighter, rises to the occasion, and 800 test wickets is just mind blowing. We bow to you Murali!

  • No featured comments at the moment.