Magician ready for final bow

Galle stadium wears a festive look ahead of Muttiah Muralitharans last Test

Magician ready for final bow

International cricket’s most prolific wicket-taker will retire from the Test version after the first Test against India starting on Sunday, and festivities are in place to commemorate a fascinating journey that began nearly 18 years back, at the Premadasa stadium in Colombo against Australia.

At 38, Muralitharan believes while there is a lot of cricket left in him, he doesn’t have the drive anymore to keep sending down over after probing over in the five-day format. “I had planned to retire after the West Indies series at home later this year, but then this tour was announced. I thought this was the right time to go -- one match was enough. There are young spinners who can have a go and play five more Tests at home. I thought it was in my best interests and the country’s best interests that I retire now.
“I decided enough is enough. A cricketer’s life is not just playing a match. It involves training, so many other things to stay fit. I have done my part for the last 19 years, now let me enjoy a little more -- a little bit of cricket and a little bit of life.”

Success has sat superbly on Murali’s broad shoulders. “I never dreamt I would finish like this,” observed the 38-year-old, who has 792 Test wickets and 515 one-day victims. “I have done very well in Test cricket. You can’t get the record (for most wickets) easily – so many people have tried and I am the best at the moment. I have no regrets. God has given me everything, I am fulfilled with that. I am not sad, I am very happy with what I have achieved and I am glad I am going out in a good manner. People are not asking me to go, they are asking me to stay.”

It was no surprise to hear him say that he would take a Sri Lankan victory ahead of eight personal wickets in his last Test. “Definitely Sri Lanka’s win,” he smiled. “If I could take eight in the first innings, Sri Lanka will win easily! But it is not going to be easy, they have such a good batting line-up. I will try all my tricks in the middle for the last time. Let’s see if it works. I am going to enjoy the game rather than thinking about how many wickets I need. I won’t put much pressure on myself. Whether I get five wickets or I don’t get a single wicket, I will be very happy.”

Refusing to get emotional, he went on, “You can’t say it’s a big match, it’s just another match though it will be my last Test. I am happy with how I have played for the last 18-19 years. Hopefully, I will get a good result for Sri Lanka and retire very well. I would like to thank the cricket Board and the groundsman (Jayananda Warnaweera) for all the arrangements in Galle. It is a great honour for me to retire like this.”

This, despite Warnaweera refusing to lay out a rank turner for his great mate. “Murali can take wickets on any surface, he doesn’t need me to prepare a turner for him,” the former offie said. Who is to bet against Murali getting eight here, and 800 in all. After all, in Galle, he has taken 108 wickets in just 14 Test matches!

Sanga, Dhoni laud team-man Murali 
Kumar Sangakkara paid Muttiah Muralitharan the ultimate compliment on Saturday, saying the retiring champion off-spinner was one of the most important figures in the history of his country.

“The greatest contribution from Murali to Sri Lanka cricket is the way he has carried himself in the dressing room, the way he has influenced the way younger cricketers think growing up under Murali,” the Sri Lankan skipper said.

“He’s been a great influence on me as a person and that’s the biggest impact of losing Murali -- we are losing a match-winner on the field but more importantly, someone who has contributed immensely to the culture of the team, performance of the team and the hard work we tried to build up.

“Socially, he has been one of the most important figures, far more than most politicians or any other person of such stature. Murali has been the one uniting factor, I believe, in Sri Lanka for a very long time. Now, at the end of the 30-year war for us, we can look back and understand the role the Sri Lankan cricket team played in the way we played on the field and the way we carried ourselves on the field, and the way we represented the country as a united family. Murali has done a great amount of work for cricket and for Sri Lanka.”

Sangakkara warmed to the Murali theme, adding, “He has absolutely no ego, which is amazing for someone who’s done so much. Money and fame don’t matter one bit to him. That’s a huge plus because it keeps egging him on to do better. He is humble, so he is always training as if he is not the best. It always keeps driving him to bigger successes, that’s the greatest thing about Murali.”

Cricket will go on without Muralitharan, Sangakkara maintained. “It didn’t stop for anyone. People like Bradman or Sobers have come and gone and cricket’s gone on. The only good thing is that players like Murali and the other greats, when they play and go, they leave cricket in a better space.”

Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was as liberal in his praise of his Chennai Super Kings mate. “He’s a great bowler, I don’t think I need to say much about his cricket. He is a great human being, which is very important. Sharing the dressing room with him for CSK was really special.

“My best memories of Murali are more off the field than on it -- the kind of character he is, it’s great to have him in the dressing room. He gets everyone going. We have played quite a few series against each other too. But I think it’s good to be with him in the dressing room because he is a great character.”

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