Muttiah Muralitharan: 500 and climbing © Getty Images
Muttiah Muralitharan recovered from a stomach upset to become the third bowler in history to take 500 Test wickets, during the first day's play in the second Test against Australia. Muralitharan reached the milestone in record time, 21 matches faster than Shane Warne and 42 quicker than Courtney Walsh.

Muralitharan, playing in his home town of Kandy, snapped up 4 for 48 in 15 overs, and brought up the landmark when he bowled Michael Kasprowicz with an offbreak that spun sharply back through the gate. Muralitharan's contribution helped bowl out Australia for 120, a record low against Sri Lanka.

Muralitharan will now race with Shane Warne (501 and climbing) to Courtney Walsh's 519-wicket world record. The record may be beyond both bowlers in this series, but there is little doubt that Muralitharan will overhaul the mark sometime during Sri Lanka's two-Test tour to Zimbabwe in April.

Hashan Tillakaratne, Sri Lanka's captain, praised Muralitharan before the second Test: "Murali is a great cricketer and a great team man. He has done Sri Lanka proud and won so many matches for us. I don't know where we would be were it not for his bowling. He has won us so many matches."

Muralitharan, the only Tamil in the Sri Lanka team and the son of a successful biscuit manufacturer, first played for Sri Lanka against Australia in 1992, taking three wickets in his first Test. His career was later plagued by controversy after being called for throwing on tours to Australia in 1995-96 and 1998-99.

But although his unique bowling still attracts suspicion in some quarters, he was cleared by the International Cricket Council after extensive, high-tech biomechanical analysis by three separate research institutes, including the University of Western Australia and the University of Hong Kong.

Those studies concluded that his helicopter-wristed and locked-elbow action produced the "optical illusion" of throwing and did not contravene the game's laws. Muralitharan has a congenital deformity that prevents him from fully straightening his arm, and a super-flexible wrist which is responsible for generating prodigious spin.