Muttiah Muralitharan reached 400 wickets in record time and Sri Lanka completed their eighth straight Test win and second successive series whitewash during an extraordinarily dramatic day of Test cricket at Galle International Stadium on Tuesday evening.
For the previous three days the cricket and been slow and attritional, with only 15 wickets falling in nine sessions of play. A fifth day conclusion appeared a certainty and a draw distinct possibility.
But on a day that started with Muralitharan poised on 397 wickets and ended in near darkness after Sri Lanka called for an extra half hour, 17 wickets tumbled after two incendiary batting collapses and Zimbabwe were bowled out for 79, their second lowest ever score, to lose the match by a massive 315 runs.
For Sri Lanka, Sanath Jayasuriya and Muralitharan teamed up to form a lethal double act with the ball as they took nine wickets apiece in the match, whilst Marvan Atapattu threw off his reputation for playing limpet-like innings with a dashing 126-ball hundred.
The previous night Stuart Carlisle had wistfully talked of "turning around the pressure" for the first time in the series by establishing parity or a small lead, but the young visitors were rocked onto the back foot from the second over and never recovered their composure.
Sri Lanka refused to take an overdue new ball and Muralitharan spun his first ball sharply back into the pads of Grant Flower. Soon, Jayasuriya had swung a quicker arm ball through the defenses of the obdurate Heath Streak (33) and Dion Ebrahim nervously padded a catch to Russel Arnold at short leg for a 24 duck.
Muralitharan was left on 388 wickets with two men remaining and seven fielders converged around the bat. In a flash it was all over, as a sharp off-break bowled Travis Friend through the gate and Henry Olonga was bowled in similar fashion first ball.
Suddenly, the large crowd, which had waited patiently for over three days for the moment, erupted, letting of a barrage of fireworks and cheering Muralitharan, who held aloft the match ball in triumph, all the way back to the pavilion.
The wild celebrations momentarily shifted attention away from Zimbabwe, but when the scores were ticked up the visitors were faced with the shocking reality of having lost their last five wickets for just six runs.
It couldn't have got worse, they must reasoned. Unfortunately, it did. Sri Lanka's batsman came out of the dressing room all guns blazing and clattered 212 in 41 overs, which was followed by another humiliating flop in the second innings.
Atapattu scored an unbeaten 100, his ninth Test half-century, which included 11 boundaries and plenty of elegant drives, whilst Kumar Sangakkara (56) whistled to a run-a-ball fifty before he swiped once too often, to leave Mahela Jayawardene with a few minutes to reverse-pull Grant Flower disdainfully for a one bounce four. For Zimbabwe, the only moment to cheer was a wicket for Olonga, his first of the series.
Straight after Atapattu reached his hundred, on the stroke of tea, Sri Lanka declared leaving Zimbabwe needing to score 395 to win and, more relevantly, four sessions to bat to save the game and salvage some pride.
Jayasuriya threw the new ball to his seamers for a short burst with the new ball but within five overs he had started an 18 spell that would yield four more wickets to give him his best Test figures and the Man of the Match award.
In his second over the procession started. Trevor Gripper (3), guilty of going back, was pinned to his stumps by a low-armed arrow that rushed off the pitch.
Craig Wishart (7) lived dangerously, surviving an lbw appeal by the skin of his teeth, before playing onto his pad and being caught at gully. Gavin Rennie (6) lasted just seven minutes before he was unfortunate to be given out caught at bat-pad after an attempted sweep.
Andy Flower (3), the most experienced batsman in the side, then increased the Zimbabwean panic by being caught at slip having played a ridiculous reverse-sweep off Jayasuriya. His brother, Grant (0), followed him back six minutes later as he padded away a straight ball.
For the first time, a fourth day finish appeared a possibility with Zimbabwe on 45 for five. With match presentation arrangements having not catered for such an eventuality, hasty phone calls were being made between cricket board officials racing down from Colombo.
Time was ticking away and the sun was dipping, but Sri Lanka asked for the final half hour. The spinners struggled to separate a stubborn 20-minute ninth wicket stand but Chaminda Vaas was recalled with immediate effect and last man Olonga was brilliantly caught at mid off by Charitha Fernando three balls before the extended close. Zimbabwe had lost 15 wickets for 85 runs in the day.