Like everyone else, Muttiah Muralitharan knew the day was inevitable when he would end up becoming the leading wicket-taker in ODIs. It eventually came in the fourth ODI against India at the Premadasa, when he removed the Man of the Match Gautam Gambhir for 150.
Muralitharan felt holding the record in both Tests - he overtook Shane Warne's 708 wickets in December 2007 - and ODIs was a great achievement, but there was not much joy on a day when his side was once again outclassed by India. There was some cheer for Sri Lanka fans, though. At 36, Muralitharan's career nearly seems over, but yet again the offspinner reiterated he aims to bow out at the 2011 World Cup in the subcontinent.
Murali went past Wasim Akram's mark of 502 and is first since Kapil Dev to hold the record simultaneously in Tests and ODIs. "It's a great achievement because the only other person who has achieved such a feat in cricket [currently] is Sachin Tendulkar, who holds both batting records," Muralitharan said. "Playing for Sri Lanka and achieving this feat is a great for me and the country. Everyone wants to play in both forms of the game, holding the records in both forms means that I have done really well playing for a long period of 18 years."
There was not much celebration in the middle when Muralitharan got to the mark. "If you are winning the jubilation of breaking the world record would have been great," he said. "When I took my 500th wicket there was more celebration in Pakistan because we won the series there. It is not about breaking records, it's all about winning matches and winning series. Unfortunately it has happened in a lost series and we have lost the match. It doesn't count as much as when you win and the momentum is there."
Records come with longevity and with persistence, and Muralitharan felt the journey had not been easy. "I have to be physically and mentally fit," he said. "It's not easy to go on for such a long time because you play so much of cricket. Sometimes you have your ups and downs. You have to put your head up and come back tomorrow and try to do the work that you have been doing for the next game. All is not sweet. I have gone through ups and downs. How strong you are and how you make a come back is the main point."
It has been a case of Muralitharan chasing Akram in ODIs, but there was more of a tussle for the Test mark. "Three bowlers were in contention for the world Test record: Shane Warne, Anil Kumble and me," he said. "They were a little bit older than me and I thought they would retire before me, then I would have a chance of overcoming them. That's what happened. I didn't think much about the one-day record because no one was closer to it. The nearest was Chaminda Vaas who had about 400 wickets [currently] so I thought it can be achieved easily."
I am thinking about playing till the next World Cup in 2011. I have nothing more to achieve after that. The World Cup will mark the end of my career
With the records in hand, it is the 2011 World Cup that is keeping Murali motivated. "Playing cricket is the only thing I know to do," he said. "I thought the body is right, mentally I was fit and everything was coming right for me so I want to play as much as I can. I am thinking about playing till the next World Cup in 2011. I have nothing more to achieve after that. The World Cup will mark the end of my career."
Hardly anything has gone right for Sri Lanka in the series, even for Murali - his three wickets have cost 70 runs apiece and his economy-rate has been more than five an over. "We must look at where we have gone wrong and correct our mistakes and try to hit get back into winning way," he said. "India have the confidence of beating England 5-0 and their batsmen are playing well. A period comes when all the batsmen are set and all get runs. They are not scared of getting out, whatever strokes they play, they play with confidence.
"Once the batsmen lose confidence that's when they start to struggle. At the moment the confidence level of this batting line up is very high, so whatever they do it's going their way. It happens in cricket. It could change or it could go on like the way Australia did for the last 10 years. Now you see Australia are struggling with same players because their confidence level has gone down. Cricket is all about confidence."