Muttiah Muralitharan equalled Shane Warne’s world-record tally of 708 wickets as Sri Lanka sent England crashing in the first cricket Test on Sunday.
The off-spinner grabbed 4-30 in 23 overs as England, replying to Sri Lanka’s modest 188, slumped to 186-6 by tea before heavy rain washed out the rest of the day’s play.
The weather gods in Muralitharan’s home town of Kandy held up his bid to become Test cricket’s most successful bowler, but the 35-year-old is unlikely to be denied the honour when play resumes on Monday.
Muralitharan looked unplayable on the uneven pitch at the Asgiriya Stadium as the batsmen groped to negotiate the alarming turn and bounce he extracted from the surface.
Paul Collingwood, unbeaten on 14, was England’s last remaining hope to gain a substantial lead on a wicket where 16 wickets have already fallen on the first two days.
Ryan Sidebottom was the other batsman at the crease, on one.
Muralitharan, who went into the match needing five wickets to overtake Warne, had debutant Ravi Bopara caught behind by wicket-keeper Prasanna Jayawardene in the post-lunch session to claim his 708th victim.
Sri Lanka’s Australian coach, Trevor Bayliss, said the team was disappointed the record did not come Muralitharan’s way on Sunday, but he was delighted the hosts had fought back strongly in the Test.
”It was disappointing for all that the rain came but I am sure Murali will get there soon, so we are just trying to focus on the team’s performance” said Bayliss.
”We knew if we kept getting wickets we would be back in the Test. Hopefully we will keep England down and match them in the second innings.
”Two days down, I think it is 50-50. Like I said, it all depends on how we bat the second time because anything over 150 to 200 will be difficult for England to chase in the fourth innings.”
The overnight pair of Ian Bell (83) and captain Michael Vaughan put on 107 for the second wicket after opener Alastair Cook had been removed third ball in Saturday’s final session.
The partnership, which threatened to take the game away from Sri Lanka, was cut short by a controversial decision by Pakistani umpire Aleem Dar against the England captain just before lunch.
Vaughan, looking solid on 37, was given out caught at silly-point off Muralitharan. Television replays showed the ball may have bounced off his pad to the fielder.
A shocked Vaughan stood aghast at his crease as Dar raised his finger, before trudging back slowly to the pavilion amid loud jeers from 3 000 England supporters.
There was, however, no doubt about Bell’s wicket as Chamara Silva lunged to his left at short mid-on to catch an uppish flick by the batsman off Muralitharan.
England took their lunch score of 145-3 to 170 before three wickets fell for 15 runs, two of them to Muralitharan.
”Any time you play Murali on his home ground is a challenge,” said Bell. ”He makes things happen because obviously he is the best bowler in the world.
”It’s important we have some good partnerships tomorrow [Monday] and build a reasonable lead and put ourselves in a good position to win the match.”
The second Test will be played at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo from December 9 to 13 while the third will be held in Galle from December 18 to 22. — AFP