It was a tale of two men, and neither of them was Muttiah Muralitharan.
This Test was remarkable for two reasons; one, it signalled that Brian Lara was hungry again. Hungry for runs, hungry for achievement, hungry to win, hungry just to be out there and smash that ball. And two, it showcased to the world that Muralitharan wasn't Sri Lanka's only world-class bowler, that long before he even began to warm up, a man by the name of Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Joseph Chaminda Vaas would be lumbering in towards the batsman, ready to hurl what in his hands was a sure weapon of war.
Chaminda Vaas wanted to be a Catholic priest in his youth, but his passion for religion was no contradiction in a land where cricket was sacred. For any Sri Lankan youngster, the game provided a means to lift oneself, to be delivered; Chaminda, with his athletic build and his single-minded focus, was ready for benediction. He studied under Dennis Lillee at the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai, and was Sri Lanka's spearhead from the time he made his Test debut. He could swing the ball both ways, move it off the pitch, and here, in Colombo, he showed that he had mastered reverse-swing as well.
He removed the top order in both innings, and wrapped up matters with four wickets in the space of four runs in the second. Seven wickets in each innings. Fourteen in the Test, the best match figures by a left-arm pace bowler in the history of the game. Hell, the best ever in Sri Lanka, a country known for spin; even Murali must have been awed.
And then, there was Lara. The decline of West Indian cricket over the last decade had been counterpointed by the bewildering rise and fall of Brian Lara, a man who had the world at his feet, but looked elsewhere and tripped. By the time this series came around, both the man and his country had been written off; majestic had become mercurial, effervescent was now enigmatic. Sure, he had gone down in history, but to hear him spoken of in the past tense, one would imagine that he no longer inhabited the present. 688 runs in six innings changed all that, 351 of which came in this match. He scored 54% of the West Indies' runs in this Test; that statistic spoke volumes not just of how low West Indies cricket had fallen, but also of the heights this man could touch. And can touch.
The softness of his features and the occasional delicacy of his play would seem to indicate a fragility in Hashan Tillekeratne that, in reality, is just not there. Always a tenacious batsman in the middle, his resoluteness was tested to the full when he lost his place in the Sri Lanka team after the 1999 World Cup, in what seemed to be a gradual purging of an older generation. But he hung in there, made runs by the proverbial ton in first-class cricket, and eventually managed to get back into the Test team. Hundreds against India and West Indies - in the first Test - were followed by a double hundred here, characterised not by his trademark grit, but by some delightful strokeplay. 586 runs at an average of 147 since returning to Test cricket; not a second wind, but a full-force gale.