'We couldn't have scripted it better' - Sangakkara
Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara said his team couldn't have scripted it better after they beat India by ten wickets to take a 1-0 lead in the series. The hosts experienced the dual joy of winning comprehensively and watching Muttiah Muralitharan bag his 800th wicket in his final Test to seal victory.
"When we came here on the first day, we got to a good start, "Sangakkara said. "The second day was washed out and there were some doubts in my mind whether we could get a result. Once we got that 500 platform and the way Lasith (Malinga) bowled, there was no way we were going to lose the match," Sangakkara said.
Sangakkara said Murali, despite talk of whether he would get to the 800-wicket landmark, remained focused on winning the Test. "What we spoke about was let's enjoy. There was no other person to do it than Murali. We've got to enjoy the test because he had done so much for us over the years.
"There's nothing more we can do, we wanted to win this match. Murali never spoke about the 800 wickets, although the press did. He was focused on winning the match."
"I don't think we gave Murali a gift, he gave us one. At the start the game I said that if Murali picks up eight wickets, we will win the match. He got eight wickets and on the other hand Malinga gave good support. As a team, we are thrilled that in his last game, Murali, like he has done for 18 years, gave us one more win."
Sangakkara also paid tribute to Murali for his contribution to Sri Lankan cricket and hoped he would continue to remain part of the set-up. "We are indebted for him for all what he's done. People like Arjuna (Ranatunga) were able to get us to this state. After 18 years for the work load he did, Murali is retiring from Tests today, but I feel as a team we are happy that we played with him for so long and hopefully he'll join us in the ODIs. If we can get Murali's service in some way or the other, even as a consultant or just to come and sit and have a chat in the dressing room is a great thing. I don't think anyone in our dressing room gets the amount of respect Murali does."
Murali and Lasith Malinga shared 15 of the 20 Indian wickets, and Sangakkara said they, along with a strong collective performance with the bat in the first innings, kept the pressure on India throughout. "It was important that we used Lasith and Murali in spells that counted and got us wickets. I think every spell they bowled they managed to do that.
"You can't forget Tharanga Paranavitana's contributions with the bat, as well as Rangana Herath's and Malinga's. Those are things that won us the game. Lasith came and did what he usually does for us in one-day cricket. The Indians were constantly under pressure. When something gives, usually a couple more follow. We are happy with that."
Malinga returned to the Test format after almost 30 months, and Sangakkara said it was a challenge to have him fit throughout. "We've been trying to get Lasith to play all forms of cricket for two years now. We believe in him immensely. He's a fighter, works as hard as anyone as I have seen. He prepares well to play matches for Sri Lanka. Unfortunately he was feeling a bit stiff. We don't want to bowl him into the ground. You know, we've done it with Murali for so many years. He's feeling it now.
"Test cricket is like that. It's a hard place for bowlers. Everyone forgets how difficult it is to be in the sun and bowl constantly on sometimes wickets that give you very little. With our cricket board we have been discussing to introduce a bonus scheme for bowlers who play an x number of games per year. At the end of the day, an injury will end your career. This is the prime form of the game and we need everyone hungry to play in this form," he said.
Murali was irreplaceable, Sangakkara said, and the onus was on the rest of the bowling unit to step up in his absence. "My theory is that I am not going to look for another Murali because you are not going to find one. There'll be just one.
"For me, leading out the side without Murali is a huge loss. But it gives us an opportunity to see how really the other bowlers will be able to give us test wins. I don't think anyone is going to take us eight-fors and nine-fors for us. They might to do it once in a while. We'll share the wickets out, do the hard work necessary and win games for Sri Lanka by bowling the unique way."