There’s a cruel beauty to Galle Cricket Ground’s magnificent location. Fringed on two sides by the Indian Ocean and overlooked by the ancient walls of Galle Fort, its vantage point is highly significant.
Like many grounds it has evolved through the years – notably from racecourse to cricket field. But few other test venues can claim to have become a place of refuge. When the Boxing Day 2004 Tsunami wreaked devastation on Galle, survivors camped out on the ground while they awaited rescue.
The stadium itself was severely damaged. But rather than throw in the towel the Sri Lankans responded with characteristic fortitude. Reconstruction of the stadium began in May 2006, 130 years after its founding. Now, with a seating capacity of 18,000, the refurbished stands have risen like beacons of hope from the destruction.
A doozy of a doosra – Muttiah Muralitharan
At his peak he was rated the greatest Test match bowler ever by Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. But Muttiah Muralitharan courted controversy throughout his career. His unique bowling action when delivering the off-spinning ‘doosra’ was scrutinised more than any other delivery in test cricket. Following investigations in 1996, 1999 and 2004 his unorthodox style was finally cleared. Now his achievements of 800 test, 68 World Cup and 534 ODI matches are lauded rather than lambasted.
Nearing the end of his test career against India in Galle, Muralitharan’s total of wickets stood at a tantalising 792. As the match progressed Murali felled seven of his Indian opponents leaving him one short of a milestone with one wicket remaining. For 23 wicketless overs, India doggedly defied the hoped-for happy ending. But in the last delivery of the over Muralitharan tempted Pragyan Ojha to flick the ball into the hands of Jayawardene. It was his 800th and final wicket from the final ball of a triumphant test career.
And what made his delivery so special but so contentious? Tests have shown that Muralitharan’s unusual hyperextension was due to a congenitally bent arm. Combined with the vagaries of the doosra this led to accusations of throwing and poor sportsmanship. But a study in 2004 finally cleared him. The experts decided that Muralitharan’s action was little different from many others, saying ‘if we ruled out every bowler that did that then there would be no bowlers left!’