The World Cup semi-final was the spinner's last game on home soil and his team ensured a happy ending after making heavy weather of the run chase in pursuit of a modest 218 target.
Sri Lanka recover to beat New Zealand in Muralitharan's send-off game
Recommendations have been many and varied as to what Muttiah Muralitharan should do with the rest of his life once he pulls the curtain down on his international cricket career after Saturday’s World Cup final.
A move into politics? Judging by the amount of placards proclaiming him as Sri Lanka's next president on show in the stands during this tournament, he would walk into the job.
A role at the family biscuit factory in the tiny village of Kundasale in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country is there if he wants it. A seat next to his father and cousin in Luckyland’s head office is being kept warm specially.
Perhaps Bollywood will get him on board to help out with their script writing. He already does a mean line in fairy-tale endings.
Last year, he spectacularly became the first bowler to reach 800 Test match wickets with the very last of the 18,180 balls he had delivered in the format.
Then, last night against New Zealand, the 35,000 people inside the R Premadasa Stadium were treated to the final “I was there” Muralitharan moment that will be seen in the master off-spinner’s homeland.
With the crowd chanting his name as the balls of his 10-over quota counted down, he sent down an uncharacteristically shabby wide, thus extending his swansong for a few more moments.
He must have been toying with everyone. The end was as predictable as night following day. He sent his final ball spinning down the wicket for the final time, and only the pads of Scott Styris prevented it from hitting the wickets.
His encore was extended by the fact the batsman reviewed the call. All that meant was the crowd were whipped into even more of a fervour by the time the final outcome was delivered.
And for his next trick? Dismissing Sachin Tendulkar on 99 in the final in Mumbai? It would seem ludicrously far-fetched if it was anyone other than Murali.
Even Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka’s arctic-cool captain, was moved by the moment. “It was emotional because it is the last time Murali will ever play a one-day international on home soil,” Sangakkara said.
“When the magnitude of the occasion hits you, it overwhelms you. It is much easier playing cricket than realising you are going to play for the last match with the world’s best bowler. Everyone was pumped up and we wanted to give him a good send off from Sri Lanka. He’s the icon of Sri Lanka, a champion on and off the field. I don’t think there is anyone out there to match him.”
As Muralitharan waved his cap to the crowd and his teammates applauded him off between the innings, it appeared certain his work was done for the day.
Sri Lanka’s bowlers, with Muralitharan again leading a battery of four spinners, had throttled the New Zealand innings, and their target of 218 appeared minuscule when Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga set off again at full tilt.
Sangakkara then joined Dilshan and posted a half-century, but a middle-order collapse sent the jitters racing among the home support, as well as the co-hosts’ dressing room.
The comeback was typical of New Zealand, who wear the underdogs tag wherever they go so proudly, led as it was by a physiotherapist-come-cricketer who had just stepped off an aeroplane in the days previously.
Andy McKay, the left-arm quick bowler who was such a surprise inclusion, dismissed Sangakkara to put the home side in a spin.
The wobble was so severe, Muralitharan was even considering changing back into his playing kit after swapping into training gear to watch the victory march.
However, Sri Lanka’s untested and underrated middle-order, with Angelo Mathews battling injury to make a timely return to form with the bat, proved good enough to take their side into Saturday’s final.
“Dilshan and I should have finished it off, or at least taken us across the 200 mark,” the captain said. “We let that opportunity go and put our side under pressure.
“Being two down with 60 runs we should have been more clinical, but in hindsight it was probably good for the middle order to show us what they could do.”
Martin Guptill b Malinga 39
Brendon McCullum b Herath 13
Jesse Ryder c Sangakkara b Muralitharan 19
Ross Taylor c Tharanga b Mendis 36
Scott Styris lbw b Muralitharan 57
Kane Williamson lbw b Malinga 22
Nathan McCullum c Sangakkara b Malinga 9
Jacob Oram c Jayawardene b Dilshan 7
Daniel Vettori not out 3
Tim Southee c Sangakkara b Mendis 0
Andy McKay b Mendis 0
Extras: (lb5, nb1, w6) 12
Total: (all out; 48.5 overs) 217
Fall of wickets: 1-32 (B. McCullum), 2-69 (Ryder), 3-84 (Guptill), 4-161 (Taylor), 5-192 (Williamson), 6-204 (N. McCullum), 7-213 (Styris), 8-215 (Oram), 9-217 (Southee), 10-217 (McKay)
Bowling: Malinga 9-0-55-3 (nb1), Herath 9-1-31-1 (w1), Mathews 6-0-27-0, Mendis 9.5-0-35-3, Muralitharan 10-1-42-2 (w2), Dilshan 5-0-22-1 (w3)
Upul Tharanga c Ryder b Southee 30
Tillakaratne Dilshan c Ryder b Southee 73
Kumar Sangakkara c Styris b McKay 54
Mahela Jayawardene lbw b Vettori 1
Thilan Samaraweera not out 23
Chamara Silva b Southee 13
Angelo Mathews not out 14
Extras: (lb2, w10) 12
Total: (for five wkts; 47.5 overs) 220
Fall of wickets: 1-40 (Tharanga), 2-160 (Dilshan), 3-161 (Jayawardene), 4-169 (Sangakkara), 5-185 (Silva)
Bowling: N. McCullum 6-0-33-0 (w1), Southee 10-2-57-3 (w3), Vettori 10-0-36-1, Oram 8-1-29-0, McKay 9.5-1-37-1 (w6), Styris 2-0-12-0, Ryder 2-0-14-0
Result: Sri Lanka won by five wickets