Sri Lanka gains edge over England in Cricket

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Muttiah Muralitharan brings the Sri Lanka team off the pitch after having nine wickets against England in the second innings at The Oval. Sri Lanka was the victorious player the match by 10 wickets © Getty Images

On August 31, 1998, Muttiah Muralitharan produced a match-winning spell of nine for 65 which made England capitulate to his tunes. The match total of 16 for 220 — the fifth Test-best analysis was a stellar performance which helped Sri Lanka register a 10-wicket win over England at The Oval. Sarang Bhaleraotalks about magician Murali’s mesmerising bowling display.The angular run-up has always had the sense of purpose. The eyes of this smiling assassin are transfixed at the spot to deliver the ball. The rhythmic run-up now reaches the popping crease the left leg pivots, the ball has copious amount of flight, call it guile if you may. Often the ball goes above the eyeline of the batsmen. The batsman has to read the ball from the hand, concentrate relentlessly. Welcome to the rigours of Test cricket. A momentary lapse of concentration against the champion off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharanand it puts a period to the innings. At The Oval, England batsmen realised how facing the wily old fox on a spinning wicket was an onerous task. Out of a total 20 wickets, 16 fell to Muralitharan.

At The Oval in 1998, Muralitharan’s stellar bowling performance became a compelling case study for off-spinners all over the world. The amount of spin on offer was encouraging. It was a case of ‘home away from home’ for the off-spinner since the surface was akin to a sub-continental square that often takes turn early on from the match.

Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga bowled first and England scored 445 thanks to centuries from Graeme Hick and John Crawley. The wicket aided spin from the first day and Muralitharan was in action right away. He picked up seven wickets that included the debutants Steve James, who came in for the injured Mike Artherton. James popped up a tame return catch to the off-spinner to give him his first wicket. Mark Ramprakash fell just before the end of the first day’s play to Muralitharan and England realised that unless they dictate terms to the spinner they will be tortured by him. Crawley on the second day used his feet against Muralitharan to negate any spin and that ploy worked. The positivity failed to rub on to his colleagues as they tried to negate the off-spinner from the crease and falling to the trap set by him.

Ben Hollioake was beaten in the air and was dismissed. Dominic Cork tried to defend the ball stretching forward but left a little gap between the bat and the pad. That small opening was enough for Muralitharan to breach the gap and the stumps were shattered. Ian Salisbury walked too far across the stumps trying to nullify Muralitharan’s off-breaks and in the process lost his leg-stump. The lower order was forced into submission. If Crawley was confident facing the off-spinner, the lower-order had no clue how to crack the Muralitharan deliveries, call it the secret code. Darren Gough tried to employ the sweep but he got an under edge that popped up and wicketkeeper Romesh Kaluwitharana took an easy catch. The last-wicket partnership of 89 between Crawley and Angus Fraser troubled the visitors. Muralitharan took the last wicket that of Fraser, bowling around the wicket and beating the No 11 in flight. His bowling performance of 59.3-14-155-7 was absolutely flattering. England’s total of 445 looked safe.

In reply, the Sri Lankan batting looked purposeful. Sanath Jayasuriya in particular took the attack to England. His innings of 213 from 278 balls gave Sri Lanka a solid platform and put them in the ascendancy.Aravinda de Silva, who surpassed 5,000 Test runs, scored 152 and Sri Lanka got a decisive lead of 146.