| Stephen Fleming and Hashan Tillekeratne with the Rankatha Trophy after the second Test ended in a draw in Kandy on Wednesday. (AFP)
Kandy: Muttiah Muralidharan took his 450th wicket and a five-wicket haul for a record 37th time on Wednesday, but could not prevent the final Test between Sri Lanka and New Zealand petering out into a draw.
Muralidharan led a Sri Lankan fightback with the ball, bowling out New Zealand for 183 after lunch on the final day. But the 191 runs they needed to win off 38 overs proved too high a target.
Hard-hitting opener Sanath Jayasuriya sacrificed his wicket in pursuit of victory but the two captains called off the game seven overs early with Sri Lanka on 72 for one.
Both Tests in the series were drawn.
Kumar Sangakkara, who opened the innings in place of Maravan Atapattu, was unbeaten on 27 with Mahela Jayawardene on 32.
Muralidharan set his record and reached 450 Test wickets when Daryl Tuffey top edged a sweep and was caught at deep square leg.
The off spinner, who wants to take 600 wickets before he retires, overtook former New Zealand allrounder Richard Hadlee for the record.
The 30-year-old, cheered on by a boisterous hometown crowd, finished with five for 49 from 39 overs and a match-haul of nine for 139.
The game always looked set for a draw after a waterlogged outfield delayed the start, but it burst into life when Sri Lanka took six wickets for 52 runs in the final morning.
New Zealand had started the day 99 runs ahead, on 92 for one, hoping to extend their lead before an afternoon declaration.
However, the visitors lost their way after the early departure of Mark Richardson, who added only four runs to his overnight 51 before edging behind.
Next over, Muralidharan deceived Mathew Sinclair with an arm ball that fizzed past the outside edge, dismissing the right-hander for a duck.
Forced on to the defensive, Stephen Fleming and Scott Styris tried to consolidate, adding just five runs in 44 minutes.
When Styris lobbed up a catch to mid-on having mistimed a leg-side push off Chaminda Vaas, New Zealand were 115 for four having lost three wickets for just six runs.
Fleming, who scored a duck in the first innings after compiling 343 runs in the first Test in Colombo, provided stubborn resistance. But the lefthander was finally caught behind off Kumara Dharmasena for 33.
Soon after, Muralidharan snared Jacob Oram and Daniel Vettori and New Zealand were reeling on 139 for seven. However, a 40-run stand in 28.1 overs after the interval between Robbie Hart and Paul Wiseman stalled the Sri Lankans.
Vaas eventually wrapped up the innings with both Hart and Wiseman edging catches behind, but that left Sri Lanka with too few overs to chase their target.
The two sides now travel to Dambulla where they start a triangular series involving Pakistan on Saturday.
Fleming said he was surprised by Sri Lanka’s negative approach during their drawn Test series.
“I thought they would have been more aggressive with us in their own backyard,” Fleming said.
“It was a pretty poor end to the Test match to be honest. We didn’t have the ability to push on this morning and they didn’t seem to want to win the Test.
“They had nothing to lose and I can’t understand why they were not willing to push on further. We were certainly not going to bowl them out in 38 overs.
“Last night we showed the urgency required but the key is that when you push harder you expose yourself and in the end we weren’t skilful enough against a world-class bowler,” Fleming added.
His counterpart, Tillekeratne defended his early decision to abandon the run chase.
“We were minus one of our best batsman (Maravan Atapattu) and they had two good spinners on a turning track,” he said.