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Sri Lanka's spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan, who on Monday emerged the world's highest Test wicket-taker, was encouraged by his family to reach 1,000 scalps, the off-spinner's wife said.

"People say that he would get 1,000 wickets...I will support him to reach that goal," said Mathimalar Muralitharan.

She said her husband, affectionately known as Murali, achieved the distinction of going past Shane Warne purely due to his hard work, dedication and determination.

"He has a big fan club all over the world and I think this record is a wonderful gift for them all," Mathimalar, an Indian by birth, said.

Fans at home burst firecrackers as the bowler, a member of the minority ethnic Tamil community, bowled Paul Collingwood just before noon to get his wicket number 709 in the first Test against England in Kandy.

Muralitharan, 35, achieved the landmark in his hometown, watched by about 6,000 joyous fans at the Asgiriya stadium -- including his parents and wife.

The feat marks a new high in the 15-year career of one of the most celebrated bowlers of the modern game whose controversial bent-arm action was questioned in the past by umpires.

He has also been held up as a symbol of ethinic unity in the otherwise ethnically divided nation.

"Murali is perhaps the only Tamil who is trusted by the (majority) Sinhalese and the firecrackers lit indicates how high he is held by them," said Namal Perera, a private sector employee.

Murali, a Tamil of Indian origin, is widely seen as a symbol of Sinhalese-Tamil unity despite the separatisr war waged by Tamil Tiger guerrillas.

"Murali's achievement is sweet because he has beaten an Australian to get there," said Zaithoon Bin Ahmed, a financial service executive.

Muralitharan has been at the forefront of Sri Lanka's rivalry with Australia ever since Australia raised doubts about his bowling action.

Pathmendran Karunakharan, an ardent fan, said Murali, like Warne, should carefully plan his future now that he has broken the world record.

"He shouldn't try to stay on and on. It is very important for him to leave on a high," Karunakharan said.
 
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