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Old 07-22-2010, 09:29 AM
bholas bholas is offline
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Default Murali gets 800, Sri Lanka chase 95

India 276 (Sehwag 109, Murali 5-63) and 338 (Tendulkar 84, Laxman 69, Murali 2-128) lead Sri Lanka 520 for 8 by 94 runs'

Forget the result of the Test. Sri Lanka need just 95 to win, with more than one session to go on the final day. Look at the bigger picture. Muttiah Muralitharan has reached the magical 800. You are eight wickets short of entering a territory where no other cricketer has left a footprint, you enter the last day of the last Test you will ever play needing two wickets, you take one, your partner threatens to take everything else on offer and you can do nothing but keep on bowling. And wait.

The umpire doesn't give a palpable shout for lbw. You wait. VVS Laxman, who kept you at bay for so hours, runs himself out and there is only one wicket left for you to take. You wait. Perhaps even fret. You nearly run out the last pair yourself. Twice. And after 23 wicket-less overs, perhaps self-doubt creeps in and you wonder whether it would come at all.

Suddenly, the moment arrives and you are there. Where no man has gone before. The long wait only highlighted the precious toil that went into the preceding 799. What a legend.
It was a script that flirted with romance and the fictional. Lasith Malinga nearly didn't let Murali get to 800. Then the Indian tail refused to relent. The real fight, though, had evaporated in the first over of the day when Malinga yorked MS Dhoni with an awesome reversing outswinger. It seemed to drift towards leg but straightened at the very last second to move past a clueless Dhoni and clattered on the stumps.

The only question that haunted you then was will Malinga knock out the tail before Murali gets his two wickets? Either by design or otherwise, Kumar Sangakkara stepped in and removed Malinga out of the attack after just three overs.

Murali is 38 now. The wrists aren't as supple, the old fizz is certainly missing, the shoulder aches and the knees creak when he pivots. And he still produces magical deliveries and takes a five-for. Even in his last Test. Yesterday, he removed Dhoni with a magical offbreak and twice had Yuvraj Singh look a tailender. Today, he didn't have to do anything special and had to just remain patient.

It's isn't easy to do so when you are so close to a special landmark. The temptation to produce something extra, something magical and something unplayable would have been there but if there was any, he didn't show it. He kept reeling in the off breaks, mixed in the occasional doosra, and varied the pace and the trajectory. And waited.

As expected, men crowded the bat, appeals were made and he trapped Harbhajan Singh in front. Unexpectedly, Abhimanyu Mithun resisted. Time wore on. Malinga remained out of the attack.

India took the lead. Murali changed ends. The photographers kept clicking every time Murali bowled a ball and ran from end to end for better views. The television cameras continued to do extreme close-ups.

Then it happened. Sangakkara had to bring Malinga back to end the partnership and Malinga knocked out Mithun in the first over with a superb inswinging yorker. Some fun followed: Malinga walked towards Murali, shook hands, had a chat, smiled and went back to bowl.

The first one was outside off. It was the only ball that Malinga bowled that appeared he didn't want a wicket. The second went to Sangakkara who pushed it out towards short third man but the Indians didn't take the single. The last one was a yorker which was dug out by Ishant.

Malinga was on target ball after ball in his next over but Laxman and Ishant stood firm. He did the same when he returned to bowl when the last pair Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha were at the crease. Yorker after yorker.

It felt right. Malinga bowling well outside off might have smelt like sympathy and a touch disrespectful to Murali. It also felt slightly alarming, though. What if Malinga took both wickets? What if Murali ended up on 799. Perhaps, it wouldn't be bad. Perhaps there was a touch of romance in that. Like Bradman's last-innings duck leaving him on 99.94.

The new ball was taken. And Murali very nearly made his tryst with destiny. A ripping off break from round the stumps seemingly had Laxman in front but umpire Daryl Harper didn't budge. Perhaps, he was wary of ruling it out because of the emotions that the context threw up. Perhaps, he just thought it was missing leg stump. Post lunch there was more nail-biting drama.

Just when you feared it might never come, it came. Ojha edged a flighted off break to who else but Mahela Jayawardene. How fitting. It was the 77th time Jayawardene had taken a catch off Murali. A world record. Murali roared, his team-mates exploded, his wife and mother jumped out of their seats, the crowd cleared their throat and the fireworks exploded. All seemed well with the world.

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