Cricket is a funny game. Jim Laker, Anil Kumble and Ajaz Patel. In a parallel world, Muttiah Muralitharan could well have been the fourth in the special quartet. At his home ground in Kandy, in front of his crowd, Muralitharan was on the verge of a poster-hit moment. The key word to be noted: on the verge.
Zimbabwe’s captain Stuart Carlisle won the toss and elected to bat. None would have expected them to fold out in a way they did, and none expected the off-spinner to spin a web like he did. But alas, that is the greatness of the off-spinner, his hunger was never satisfied, and he grew more and more in vigour as his career progressed.
On a first day wicket, where there was plenty of turn but not a whole lot of bounce, Muralitharan spun the ultimate web like Spiderman would while trying to save Mary Jane. It took only nine overs for Sri Lanka to strike and only two balls for Muralitharan to strike. Whilst there was a heavy element of luck involved, with an inside-edge going straight to Jayawardene to remove Trevor Grippier.
While in the first half of the first day, it was guile and skill from the off-spinner, he was helped by the sharp turn in the second half of the day. The crowd roared at the peak of their voice, it was as if every single one of them at Kandy had a fair share in Murali’s success.
Hamilton Masakadaza was undone by a beauty. The ball was flighted well around the eyesight and turned sharply away from the right-hander to hit the timber and shock the youngster. All that Murali could do in response was scratch his forehead and wonder, “how are they going to play me.” It was sublime, and Hamilton would most definitely attest to that.
His next two wickets – Gavin Rennie and Andy Flower – were undone by a brilliant piece of work from Kumar Sangakkara behind the wickets. If Rennie was stumped, Sangakkara showed presence of mind in holding onto the ball against Flower. The crowd was chanting, singing hymns in the name of their legend – Muralitharan.
Once the ball started turning square, it was only a matter of time. And, when Craig Wishart was bamboozled by the turner, Russel Arnold was all of us in collective – shaking his hand and bowing down to one of the legendary spinners. One wicket at a time, Muralitharan was already on the cusp of creating history and joining an illustrious club. With Grant Flower’s wicket, Murali had already taken nine wickets.
Can Murali get the ten?
But before we get to the moment, it was by far a stretch of reality till a day ago. Muralitharan had collected nine wickets on day one, and was on the cusp of glory heading into day two. But this time, his dream was acting as a bridge to the torn ligaments on his dislocated ring finger. Travis Friend and Henry Olonga stood in front of that record.
In a parallel world, Muralitharan would have taken just one delivery on day two to pick up an ultimate ten-wicket haul in an innings. But in a parallel world because Russel Arnold missed a sitter. To add insult to injury, Indian umpire Venkatraghavan said no to a loud appeal as Sri Lanka in unison, were searching for Muralitharan’s tenth wicket.
And then, his dream was shattered right in front of his eyes. It came out of nowhere, and to a delivery that was totally harmless. Chaminda Vaas was on the verge of completing his over with only one ball remaining. Olonga till then had just waved his bat at the ball, with an evident sound of the ball missing the bat till then.
The final delivery was just as innocuous, wide away from the right-hander. But he had a go at it, and Sangakkara in the most jovial fashion, threw the ball up in the air. Vaas turned back and looked at the umpire in an attempt to finish the over but suddenly, the dreaded finger went up.
Kandy 2002. Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe 2nd Test. Zimbabwe 234-9 and Muttiah Muralitharan on 9-51. Then this happened... 🥲 pic.twitter.com/DzLotmx98o— Mainak Sinha🏏📽️ (@cric_archivist) December 4, 2021
Ashoka de Silva had given it. Olonga nodded and turned quickly to walk back to the dressing room. The commentators were shell-shocked. “Oh, he’s been ruled out,” was the voice. The camera panned towards Muralitharan, who, with a smile rather in disbelief, joined his teammates to walk back to the dressing room.
The crowd went numb. Vaas immediately picked up his cap and walked away from sight. From far, Sri Lankan skipper Sanath Jayasuriya walked to give Muralitharan a warm shoulder before the off-spinner was congratulated by the entire team. Uncle Percy raised his flag, and up went the crowd to a thunderous applause.
“Murali has been denied that ten wickets, history has not been made, he is not the first Sri Lankan to pick up ten wickets in an innings. Mixed emotion,” said the commentator.
A jovial appeal that turned doom to a Murali dream. History was not made. Murali was denied.