The end was perfect: Muttiah Muralitharan needed eight wickets in his farewell Test to make the 800-mark and, after some struggle, he got there with his last delivery in Test cricket. And when Sri Lanka won the match, it was the fairytale finish all Sri Lankans would have hoped for, much like Glenn McGrath bowing out with a World Cup triumph, or Pete Sampras retiring after winning the US Open.
Murali's record of 800 wickets could stay forever, given the number of Tests teams play these days. Murali got as far as he did due to his phenomenal strike-rate - he took an average of six wickets per Test - and outstanding average over such a long period. A comparison with Anil Kumble puts it in perspective: Kumble played only one Test fewer than Murali, but finished with 181 fewer wickets despite averaging 4.7 wickets per match. Among those with at least 500 Test wickets, no one has a wickets-per-match average anywhere near Murali. Shane Warne is closest and even he has only 4.88 per Test.
The other aspect about Murali that stands out is the sheer size of the workload he undertook match after match. Being the standout strike bowler for his team meant he had a better opportunity than most to take a high percentage of wickets, but being a spinner who played mostly in the subcontinent also meant he had to do the bulk of the bowling, a task he handled admirably. In his final Test, Murali bowled 370 deliveries (268 of them in the second innings), which was only 39 more than his average per Test over his career. Among those with more than 500 wickets, Kumble is the only one to bowl more than 300 deliveries per Test.
And among the top five wicket-takers in wins, Murali is the only one who had to bowl more than 300 deliveries per Test. Kumble's balls bowled in matches won dropped to 297 - about two overs fewer than his overall average - but for Murali the average increased by a couple of overs, showing that Sri Lanka relied on him even more in wins. And his average wickets per match increased further in wins, to 8.11. Only Kumble is anywhere close to that figure.
As if 66 five-fors weren't enough, Murali got one more in his final Test, finishing with 67. Considering he is 30 five-fors clear of the next highest, Warne, and 43 clear of the next-highest active player, Harbhajan Singh, that's another record that will almost certainly stay with him forever. As will Murali's 22 ten-fors, which is more than twice the next best, and more than four times the highest among current players.
The rate at which Murali took five-fors was amazing - he needed fewer than two Tests to take one. Richard Hadlee, another bowler who did most of the striking duties for his team, is the only one with a comparable rate.
Murali took a ten-for
once every six Tests, and while that's a phenomenal rate too, a couple of bowlers from the early 1900s did better. Sydney Barnes took seven from 27 matches, while Clarrie Grimmett had seven from 37. Among the current lot, though, no one comes anywhere close to Murali, which shows just how far ahead of the pack he has been.