Second Test

Australia v Sri Lanka

Robert Craddock

At Cairns, July 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 2004. Drawn. Toss: Sri Lanka.

There are rare and captivating moments in cricket history when the pursuit of an individual milestone completely overshadows the match going on around it. There are even more special ones when the milestone and the maelstrom go hand in hand. This was such an occasion. Warne needed seven wickets to equal Muralitharan's Test record and eight to beat it. He got seven, after bowling unchanged through the last two sessions, but Sri Lanka held on for a draw.

The record bobbled along in the background for the first four days before surging into focus on that final afternoon - for everyone except Murali. When told, back in Colombo, that Warne had pulled level, he replied "Oh, he's got it, has he? Well done. I've been out practising."

This was a slow-fused game. It started with a romp in the sunshine by Australian openers Hayden and Langer, and finished in near-darkness, with the grim-faced Sri Lankan tail buried in their bunkers.

Atapattu won the toss again and was seduced by predictions of bounce, pace and movement into bowling first. There was bounce, but it was slow, true and hardly vicious; this was a batsman's match for the first four days. Sri Lanka seemed all but out of it after two sessions as Langer and Hayden proceeded in cavalier fashion towards their sixth and biggest double-century stand. It was also the fifth time both had scored a hundred in the same innings, another record. Hayden followed up with 132 in the second innings, his 20th Test century in 95 Test innings, a strike-rate bettered (among batsmen with more than 20 innings) only by Sir Donald Bradman and George Headley.

Australia were 370 for two at stumps on day one but lost seven wickets in 15 overs either side of lunch next day. The unpretentious leg-spin of Chandana took the first of two five-wicket hauls in this match, an admirable effort on a pitch that hardly suited him, even if he did profit from Australian adventure.

Sri Lanka's batsmen then fought hard. Atapattu led the way, pouring five and a half hours into his 133, and seven of the top eight stayed more than an hour. The decision to relieve Sangakkara of keeping duties saw him emerge fresher at the crease: he batted nearly three hours on the second day, and four and a half on the last to bankroll Sri Lanka's escape. When their first innings finally ended on a rain-delayed fourth day, they had made their highest total in Australia, 455 - which was still 62 behind.

Australia were under pressure to score quickly in a bid to nail a 2-0 victory, but the rush did not start until 67 runs flowed in nine overs on the fourth evening, with Martyn, a cultured blend of power and poise, rocketing to a run-a-ball fifty. Next morning, Hayden completed his second hundred and Ponting, in his first home Test as captain, declared to leave a target of 355 in 85 overs. That never entered Sri Lanka's sights, but Australia's nerves showed when McGrath earned a 25% fine for swearing after an early lbw shout against Jayasuriya was turned down.

By now, Warne needed five wickets to overtake Muralitharan. He focused his talents for a marathon five-hour spell which almost got himself and his country over the line before both contests ended all square. Warne came on in the 12th over, shortly before lunch, and it was obvious at once, as he had the batsmen prodding and scrapping, that his bowling was as good as at any time throughout the series. His first wicket came from his fourth ball after lunch when Jayasuriya, unsure whether to play or leave, meekly edged behind. But Warne had to wait until after tea before his next victim, Kaluwitharana, edged to short leg.

As television executives around Australia mulled over whether to stick with the cricket or go to the game show The Price is Right, Warne delved into his magic box to find something special to unseat Sangakkara, whose left-handedness was a buffer between him and the record. He survived everything until a cracking leg-break screwed back from outside off into his middle peg.

The record-equaller was a tight thing. Warne ripped another leg-break past Chandana, whose back foot fatally slid one centimetre too far forward: Gilchrist whipped off the bails. Warne's parents rose in the grandstand, but it was to be Australia's last moment of joy. Try as he did, he could not put the cherry on the pie by claiming the one wicket he needed for outright ownership of the record, or two to win the match, as No. 10 Zoysa stood firm for the final half-hour. It was only the second time Sri Lanka had avoided defeat in eight Tests in Australia.

Man of the Match: M. L. Hayden. Attendance: 20,102.

© John Wisden & Co