Truly sublime sporting performances are rare in sport but Muttiah Muralitharan turned in just such an effort yesterday to win the third and final Test match for Sri Lanka by 134 runs and to square the series.
He was robbed of a possible all-ten wicket analysis by the run-out of Matthew Hoggard after he had taken the first seven, and his final analysis of 30-10-70-8 suffered from a mauling from the most unexpected of quarters - England's No 11, Monty Panesar.
If yesterday is to be his final Test match appearance in this country - he will be 39 when Sri Lanka next tour here in four years' time - he signed off with such a virtuoso display of his unique talents that most of the good crowd of about 10,000 will be able to take a leaf out of the Max Boyce book of quotes and boast "I was there."
It was mesmeric stuff, admittedly on a pitch which might have been flown in from his native Kandy - hard and dry with widening cracks. A victory target for England of 325 needed a miracle or injury to Murali, and it is doubtful if the result would have been any different had the home side needed 100 fewer.
Apart from Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss at the top of the order, and Panesar and Liam Plunkett at the other end, the rest were washed away, not by careless strokes but more by a total inability to read and play the magician. Not one of the eight victims of Murali got out to anything but a defensive stroke but the fact he hit the stumps twice, secured two plumb lbws and had the other four caught within four yards of the bat illustrates how unstoppable he was.
No other batting side in world cricket could have resisted the irresistible yesterday, and to watch him making top batsmen look foolish was a joy, even to home supporters.
There has never been one like him and, although "never" is a dangerous word to use in life, there will never be another similar performer, whose method and apparently bent arm comes from a deformity in right shoulder, arm and wrist, that enables him to impart a variety of spin that is undetectable and rotates more viciously than can be managed by mere mortals.
He fell only one wicket short of perfect career symmetry. He has played 106 Tests and his wicket aggregate is 635 - one short of the perfect six. Anyone taking 4.5 wickets per Test is doing well, five is rare and nobody else approaches six.
It was also his second successive ten-wicket match haul, and he has done this 16 times, seven more than his nearest challenger Shane Warne.
England actually had a morning which put them in profit. They took the last three Sri Lankan wickets for 36 runs and the openers went into lunch at 49 without loss. Trescothick and Strauss rightly played positively against the new ball, knowing that battle would be joined with Murali sooner rather than later.
He came on to bowl the tenth over from the pavilion end at 12.40pm, and there he stayed until the end of the match just after 5pm. He takes longer to bowl out good left-handers because he is reluctant to go around the wicket, and his extravagant turn means he is mostly pitching outside their leg stump, but once he diddled them both he became unplayable to all the right-handers.
Trescothick was first to depart, playing back when he might have been forward and, for at least the fourth time in the series, was undone by the doosra which nipped back and took off stump.
It might bring tears to a punter's eyes but at 84 for one the bookmakers still made England favourites, and still they were when Alastair Cook was lbw when England needed 221 for what was then a notional win.
Strauss had busied his way to his ninth Test 50 but was no nearer to solving the " Muricube" when he bat-padded a catch to Mahela Jayawardene with the score on dreaded Nelson - 111 for three.
From then onwards it was carnage with the Strauss dismissal initiating a collapse in which six wickets went for 25 scratchy runs in 17 overs.
No partnership managed double figures, as Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff, Paul Collingwood, Geraint Jones and Hoggard came and went for a combined total of 25 and the match was won and lost. Pietersen's body language suggested he was unlucky to be given out caught but televisual evidence showed Rudi Koertzen made a brilliant decision, the ball flicking the wrist off the pad.
Murali has mostly had Flintoff's number in the series and he did him second ball for a duck, to be followed in the last over before tea by Collingwood, who the third umpire on referral spotted that he played the ball down on to his foot, thence to short leg Tillekeratne Dilshan, whose third successive catch it was.
At 125 for six at tea, the middle session was worth 76 for six wickets in 33 overs - praise be for that last figure, a rare extra ration in modern cricket where 30 overs are apparently too many to be bowled in two hours. Sri Lanka operate from a theory which says, the more overs you bowl, the better the chance of more wickets - a piece of logic which is beyond most sides.
Murali's unquenchable thirst for the prized all ten continued after the break, when another doosra was too much for Jones, but then Hoggard party-pooped by allowing Plunkett to run him out by yards.
Never mind, with seven for 40 and two tailenders in, Murali looked odds on to take a career-best nine for fewer than the 51 he conceded at the Oval several years ago.
He had Jonathan Lewis lbw to make it eight for 46, so surely Panesar would oblige. Not a bit of it for the young man who had been cheered throughout the match whatever he did.
His fielding had been jokeworthy in the first two Tests but there is no bigger assiduous practiser, and he did not once fumble in the match.
Not only that but he took two of the three wickets to fall in the first eight overs of the day and finished with his best figures of 37.1-13-78-5, with Chaminda Vaas unbeaten on 34 to take his series average into the ninteies.
Panesar is supposedly a knock-over No 11 whose captain would rather bat him at number 12 but he played well and with some style for his 28 which came at better than a run a ball and included a six and a four in one over from Milord. The crowd loved it, and the tenth-wicket partnership of 37 was comfortably the second highest of the innings. Sanath Jayasuriya ended it and the Sri Lankan celebrations started.
They earned the win after their own batting shortcomings on the first day. To win from the bottom of the cellar steps by 134 runs was some performance. Man of the Match? Need anyone ask?