Muttiah Muralitharan delayed his ODI retirement so that he could play in the World Cup, and he is visibly on his last legs. He fought a hamstring injury, a side strain, a troublesome knee and groin, and it had even been suggested he would be preserved for the final and not be risked in a home semi-final against New Zealand. Rubbish. There is no way you could keep Murali out of his last match at home. If he could stand straight, he would. And play he did.
The relief around in Colombo was palpable when it was announced Murali was fit to play. Just fit enough, it turned out. For in the sixth over he went off the field, and came back in the 11th. Still Murali, clearly not at his best, even on one leg, is presence enough. As soon as he had spent the four overs on the field to become eligible for a bowl, Murali gave it a twirl.
Round the wicket he started, and landed the first ball on the spot. In his third over, a big offbreak, not the best delivery he has bowled to take a wicket, bounced on Jesse Ryder, and New Zealand's match-winner from the quarter-final was gone. The ascendance gained, Sri Lanka went ahead to apply the squeeze, and once again it ceased being all about Murali. New Zealand rebuilt through Scott Styris and Ross Taylor, and then asked for the Powerplay in the 42nd over.
Murali was brought back in the second Powerplay over. Now a 20-year-old kid, playing his 19th international match, served a reminder that a bad ball from Murali is still a bad ball. It was a levelling over actually. Kane Williamson employed the old trick on the master: came down and lofted him over mid-off one ball, and rightly guessed a short ball next and rocked back to cut it for four. Nathan McCullum hit him for a six in his next over, the ninth.
Murali's last match at home could not have ended in a whimper. He had one more over left, majority of which was bowled to the set Styris. The Premadasa Stadium was awake to it. The Sri Lanka flags were raised in the stands, it seemed like a single long Sri Lanka flag, as long as the stadium's circumference, ran across the stands.
For old time's sake, perhaps, Murali went back to bowling from over the stumps. For one last over at home, he started bowling the big offbreaks, reminiscent of the pre-doosra days. His last ball on home soil was bowled from wide on the crease, turning back in, and it hit Styris in front. LBW. A wicket that kickstarted a collapse of 4 for 4. It would have been incredibly contrived had it not been for real.