A despairing dive, agonizingly falling short by a millimeter or two from safety and that was it, Rangana Herath’s last act on a cricketing field. Not a fitting way to end for the game’s best left arm bowler but certainly a one that was emblematic of his whole cricketing journey. Fighting till the very end as he did for so many years in the early part of his career. A lacklustre performance from the Sri Lankan team meant it couldn’t be a fairy tale ending for Herath.
With the presence of Muttiah Muralitharan in the team, it was always difficult for Herath to cement his place. For the first ten years his opportunities came few and far between. Since making his debut in September 1999, he didn’t feature in a single test from July 2000-March 2004) and then a 30 month long absence from October 2005- March 2008.
Even when he was playing along side Murali he was playing the supporting role. In the 15 Tests Rangana Herath played with Murali, he took 39 wickets at an average of 45.46 while Muttiah Muralitharan bagged 90 at 24.84.
Tests Wkts Avg SR 5WI
During-Murali Era (’99-2010) 22 71 37.89 75.80 4
Post-Murali Era (2010-2018) 70 362 25.99 56.60 30
There is a significant difference in Herath’s performances when you compare when Murali was playing and after his retirement. He has picked more wickets after the age of 30 than any other bowler in the history of the game.
Most Wickets Aged 30 plus In Tests
Rangana Herath 398
Muttiah Muralitharan 388
Shane Warne 386
Anil Kumble 343
Courtney Walsh 341
When Muttiah Muralitharan was rattling the opposition in the international arena Herath was grinding it out in the domestic. Season after season in wilderness, bowling tirelessly on dust bowls, mastering his flight, spin and guile. Doing his bank job in the off season. None of it was easy but all those long hard years made him a humble legend he is today.
Kumar Sangakkara lauded his former teammate. “His determination shows in his whole career, to be out of the team when Murali was there, and to only get a chance later.He made sure he kept working on his game all through those years so that he could grab the opportunity when it came. It’s the kind of quality you see from him on the field as well. There are spells that don’t go his way, but he’ll come right back into it, and within a few overs he’s turned things around straightaway. The control to bowl that he has is something amazing.”
Herath was in England when Kumar Sangakkara told him about his selection in the playing eleven for the Galle test against Pakistan. Herath recalls. “It didn’t even really occur to me that I had to travel about five hours to even get to the London airport,” Herath says. “But I thought, ‘I’ve given my word now, so I have to go.”
“When I was flying to Colombo, I thought, ‘I’m over 30 now. There are other spinners. This could be my last chance.’ I made up my mind to forget all the excuses – to forget the travel fatigue and the jet lag. I tried to focus on giving this chance my all.”
And he certainly gave his all. It was Day four of the first test where it all started again for him. Pakistan started the day requiring 97 runs with 8 wickets in hand. Herath’s double strike in his first over started a collapse of epic proportions and Pakistan were bundled out for 117 chasing 167. In 12 overs he just gave away 15 runs and picked up 4 wickets.
Moving on, in the second Test Herath was instrumental in inducing another collapse. Pakistan were gaining ascendancy courtesy a brilliant partnership between Younis Khan and debutant Fawad Alam. The duo added 200 runs for the second wicket before Herath got Fawad out. From 285-1,Pakistan were dismissed cheaply for 320. Herath took 5/99 in 35 overs in the innings. This was no ordinary feat considering Pakistan had Younis, Mohammad Yousuf, Misbah-Ul-Haq and Shoaib Malik, all accomplished players against spin in their ranks. Herath took another fifer in the last test to take his series tally to 15 and there was no looking back for him after this.
In the recent times with the rise of T20 cricket the left armers were somewhat cut short for defensive roles. The off spinners with their Doosra and leg spinners were considered more lethal options. Herath’s resurgence redefined the boundaries of left arm spinners again. His spell in Chittagong against New Zealand was a testimony to this. A virtual knockout game, defending just 119, Herath put on an absolute masterclass. He finished with figures of 3/5 in 3.3 overs leaving the Kiwis bamboozled. His performance was the key in Sri Lanka lifting the T20 World Cup in 2014. Nowadays the likes of Imad Wasim and Ravindra Jadeja can be seen being used as attacking options by their captains.
As a batsmen Rangana was never the one to shy away from a challenge. No matter what the situation, he came out with all guns blazing. In his younger days he was an all rounder,opening the innings for his club. The short arm pulls, sweeps and reverse sweeps over the years were a proof that he was no mug with the bat.
Even with the ageing body and worrisome knees Herath always gave his best in the field. Sometimes you could see him doddering while chasing the ball while at some occasions he was just brilliant. The catch he took to dismiss Mathew Wade at Gabba in 2012 was a classic. Back peddling, lifting his left arm and clinching it left the crowd, his teammates, personnel in the commentary box and even himself bewildered.
Herath ends his career on number eight (tied with Stuart Broad) on the list of leading wicket-takers in Test cricket with 433 scalps. With uncertainty looming over his life’s ‘second innings’, he might play domestic cricket for his club as he hinted in his farewell speech or go back to his bank job he holds very dear but one thing is for certain : he is leaving a huge void in the Sri Lankan team. He is a role model, Sri Lanka never had and probably never will, a true example of anything is possible. Farewell Rangana.