Murali's romanticised farewell

He needed eight wickets, it came down to the final one of the innings, and the catch was taken by his favourite slip catcher. Perhaps it was all contrived to end this way

At 1.55pm, Murali reached the magical figure of 800, and better still, he had set up Sri Lanka's win  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

At 1.55pm, Murali reached the magical figure of 800, and better still, he had set up Sri Lanka's win  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

It would have been incredibly contrived had it not been for real. The last wicket had stood for more than 15 overs, there was a cloud coming in from afar, the opposition had built up a lead of over 90, time was slowly running out. Then, at 1.55pm, Muttiah Muralitharan bowled a sharp offbreak to Pragyan Ojha and Mahela Jayawardene was there to wrap his fingers around an edge off Murali's bowling for one last time - his 77th catch off him, a record - to bring up Murali's 800th wicket.
The slight tension had eased, the crowd that had earlier celebrated a not-out decision off another bowler erupted, his team-mates carried him off the park and Jayawardene hugged him for one last time in a Test. Murali had set up another match for Sri Lanka. Perhaps Sri Lanka had contrived to let him take 800 wickets. Perhaps it was contrived to end this way even before Murali switched to offspin from medium pace.
The one that took its time coming
Murali goes into his last match needing eight wickets to get to 800, recreates the magic in the first innings, taking his 67th five-for, reaches 799 on the final morning, and needs one out of the three remaining batsmen; and then the wickets dry up. Lasith Malinga, the man who looks like taking a wicket every ball, is off the field due to some discomfort. Murali tries and tries with no results in a 9.3-over spell. A partnership builds, takes India closer to averting an innings defeat.
Malinga comes back, and does his time. Murali changes ends. Malinga goes to Murali's end and produces a killer yorker off the third ball to bring up his career-best figures of 5 for 50. Malinga hugs Murali, smiles, chats. Perhaps a pact is signed. One out of two now.
Murali goes back to the Fort End and bowls the first over with the new ball. Malinga feels some discomfort again and is taken off soon. Murali goes round the wicket, pitches a two-over-old ball outside off, and gets it to turn so much it goes down the leg side.
The partnership flourishes again. VVS Laxman, the more accomplished batsman, doesn't try to shield Ishant Sharma against Murali, who doesn't look dangerous but is trying. After a five-over spell, he gets another change of ends. Malinga is still kept away.
In the second over of Murali's new spell, Laxman is run out. It's a close decision for the third umpire. The cameras are all on Murali's face. He smiles when the batsman is given out. Chanaka Welegedara bowls an over full of deliveries wide outside off from the other end. Malinga goes off the field again. The batsmen, perhaps sure that Sri Lanka won't go for run-outs now, start taking suicidal runs. One of those is attempted when the ball goes to Murali, and he lets it rip, missing the stumps by a fraction.
Another partnership builds. Murali changes ends again. Welegedara, Rangana Herath and Tillakaratne Dilshan are mostly innocuous from the other end. No sign of Malinga. Angelo Mathews is not even tried. It is clear Sri Lanka are now letting Murali go for the last wicket.
The last two partnerships have lasted 17.3 overs and 15.2 overs. Every ball bowled, every run scored, is eating into the time needed to knock the target off. On top of that there have been instances of Murali's team-mates not trying to go for the final wicket. The last thing Murali wants is to stand in the way of a win for the sake of his record.
Then again, who else could have taken that wicket? Malinga is off the field. In his 27th over of the day, out of 57 bowled by Sri Lanka on the day, Murali produces the final breakthrough, through his favourite slip catcher. How could it not be contrived? How could it not be real?

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo