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Muralitharan spins Sri Lanka to first Test win against West Indies

Muttiah Muralitharan spun Sri Lanka to their first Test victory against the West Indies on Saturday in front of a joyous Galle crowd as the inexperienced tourists batting betrayed their lack of confidence against top class spin.

Starting the final day on nine for one, 132 runs behind Sri Lanka, the West Indies had had high hopes of batting out the day on a docile pitch, but were bowled out for 144 shortly before tea.

Sri Lanka's openers quickly knocked off the required runs to bring to an end a remarkable fight-back, started and ended by man of the match Muralitharan.

On Wednesday afternoon a Sri Lankan victory appeared inconceivable with the West Indies so well placed on 423 for four. However, Muralitharan inspired a dramatic collapse in which five wickets fell for 25 runs to bowl them out for 448 and let Sri Lanka back into the game.

The home batsmen responded with 590 for nine (doubling their previous highest score against the West Indies of 233 for eight in 1996/7 at St. Vincent) that spanned three days, to give them an unlikely 142 run lead and provide Muralitharan with a chance to press for victory on the final day. An opportunity that was taken, as the mysterious off-spinner picked up yet another five-wicket haul.

The victory was comparable in form to Sri Lanka's equally astonishing victory against England at the Oval in 1998 when the English scored 445 in the first innings only to lose after Muralitharan grabbed 16 wickets.

Muralitharan was the catalyst for the turnaround in Galle too, although for once, he didn't take the key wickets in the second innings. Still, he ended up with five for 44 in the second innings to finish with 11-169 in the match.

It was the eighth time he has taken ten-wickets in his 67 Test career. It was also the third time in consecutive Test matches and it is no wonder then that Sri Lanka have now won four out of their five last Tests.

The day had begun well enough for the West Indies, with a 67 run partnership between Trinidadian opener Daren Ganga and Guyanan number three Ramnaresh Sarwan, but from the time Ganga sweep a ball from left-arm spinner Niroshan Bandaratillake straight into the hands of Tillakaratne at square leg, the innings slipped away.

Having survived the best part of two hours without mishap, the West Indies lost Ganga, Sarwan and Carl Hooper all in the space of 22 minutes, to leave them precariously placed on 92 for four at lunch.

Sarwan had lived a charmed life in the middle, surviving an early shout from Chaminda Vaas and some close appeals from Muralitharan, in a memorable eight over tussle, but looked to have weathered the storm when Jayasuriya withdrew his premier bowler from the attack.

The decision, like many made in the day by Jayasuriya, who changed his bowlers frequently and astutely, immediately brought dividends as Ganga (33) gifted his wicket.

Straight away Muralitharan was pulled back into the attack and with his second ball he had Sarwan poking indecisively to be caught by the omnipresent Russel Arnold at silly point for 30.

West Indian fate now lay firmly in the hands of the two senior players: Lara and Hooper. Lara had raised eyebrows when he had arrogantly declared the night before that he was going to bag 150 to save the game, but no one argued that his and Hooper's wickets were the key.

Bandaratillake ended Hooper's innings, though, moments before lunch as the Guyanan right-handed drove loosely to be caught at short extra cover by a jubilant Jayasuriya.

After lunch, Marlon Samuels (2) was hit on the full by Muralitharan and adjudged lbw to bring Ridley Jacobs to the crease with the score on 93 for five.

Jacobs and Lara raised hopes in a 38 run partnership and were on brink of wiping out the deficit when disaster struck for the tourists.

Off-spinning all-rounder Thilan Samaraweera, who had not bowled in the innings and bowled like a drain in the first, came onto bowl in place of Muralitharan. Lara relaxed and tried to hit his fourth ball over the top. He miscued and Muralitharan clung on safely to the catch at mid-wicket.

West Indian hopes evaporated and the remaining four wickets tumbled without a mumour of resistance. The collapse even surpassed their first innings debacle, as the last five wickets fell for just 13 runs.

West Indies would have had realistic hopes of victory on Thursday afternoon, but leave Galle one-down and distraught. Their one ray of hope will be the fact that Sri Lankan minds are also ill at ease.

Kandy, the venue for the next Test in four days time, has been as bad for them, as Galle has been good, so much so that the superstitious Sri Lankan's refer to it as the Kandy Hoodoo.

West Indies are down, but by no means out.