Muttiah Muralitharan bowled two magical deliveries when it mattered most to hand Sri Lanka an 88-run win over a fighting England in the first Test in Kandy on Wednesday.
The off-spinner, who became Test cricket’s most successful bowler in the first innings, got out Matt Prior and Ian Bell in the space of three deliveries with the second new ball to end England’s spirited challenge.
The tourists, needing to bat out the final day for a draw after being set an improbable victory target of 350, were bowled out for 261 in the last 30 minutes of the match at the Asgiriya stadium.
Sri Lanka took a 1-0 lead in the three-match series going into the second Test, which opens at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo on Sunday.
England, who resumed the final day at 9-1 in their second knock, slumped to 90-5 in the morning session before Bell (74) launched a heroic rescue attempt in the company of the lower order batsmen.
He put on 49 for the sixth wicket with debutant Ravi Bopara (34) and a defiant 109 for the seventh with wicket-keeper Prior (63) that threatened to frustrate Sri Lanka’s victory bid. Muralitharan, kept wicketless for 31 overs, struck in his second over with the new ball when he floated a straight one to Prior, who missed the line and was bowled.
Two balls later in a new over, Muralitharan bowled Bell to effectively seal his side’s victory. Bell’s knock followed his 83 in the first innings.
Muralitharan claimed a third wicket when he earned a lucky leg-before decision against Ryan Sidebottom from Pakistani umpire Asad Rauf with television replays showing a clear edge from the bat.
Fast bowler Lasith Malinga yorked Matthew Hoggard to signal Sri Lanka’s thrilling victory in front of 7,000 spectators, including at least 3,000 travelling English supporters. Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene hailed the win as a “great effort” after the hosts had conceded a first innings lead of 93 runs.
“For us to come back and win this Test match was a great effort,” he said.
“It was a very good lead for England. We had to really dig deep and show a lot of character to come back.” Jayawardene praised man of the match Kumar Sangakkara for his 152 in the second innings and Muralitharan’s efforts through the game.