Rangana Herath picked nine for 127 to become the first left-arm bowler to bag nine wickets in an innings © AFP
Rangana Hearth continues to be the bedrock of the Sri Lankan bowling attack after the retirement of Test cricket’s highest wicket-taker Muttiah Muralitharan. R Vishal analyses as to why the left-arm spinner is underrated despite his immaculate consistency.
There have been 19 five wicket hauls and three 10 wicket hauls since 2009, but as the story of his career has been so far, Rangana Herath’s herculean feats still largely remain unnoticed by the cricketing fraternity. During his latest five-wicket scalp against Pakistan in Colombo (SSC), he became the fourth-fastest bowler in history to take 250 Test wickets. The only ones who beat him to the feat are Shane Warne, Anil Kumble and the colossal name, whose shadow perpetually looms over him, Muttiah Muralitharan.
Just ask Virat Kohli or a Cheteshwar Pujara how it is to deal with a collective pressure of a demanding cricket nation to fill in the boots of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid respectively. While that story is still in its infancy, Herath took to the role with aplomb. While Murali had an able strike bowler in Chaminda Vaas in his halcyon days, Herath has lacked an able support bowler to aid him. The Lankan pacers continue to deliver blink-and-miss performances and the team management has had little choice but to chop and change.
A one-man show? Possibly. Out of the 21 Test wins that he has been a part of, Herath has taken 107 wickets at a whopping average of 22.04. The burden of expectations clearly decodes the Hearth code here. He was never perhaps rated highly enough, right from the onset to come this far. While Hearth had to wait till his early 30′s to cement a place in the team, quite a few spinners from Upul Chandana to Ajantha Mendis were tried out in the first decade of the millennium to play second fiddle to Murali.
Sri Lankan administrators have had a reputation of having an eye for the unconventional. The carrom ball and the sling-arm pace is now a part of the Island Nation’s folklore. There is nothing spectacular about Herath. A run-up that is only a few paces, barely intimidating and the arm going down in one fluent motion — a far cry from the variation specialists that are in vogue. It is perhaps this simple, workmanlike approach that has only reluctantly brought in the plaudits for the short, stocky spinner. He continues to breeze through match after match, bowling more than 40 overs in an innings and despite his portly frame, remains as fit as anyone around.
Being only the fourth left-arm spinner to reach the 250 mark, one of cricket’s finest late bloomers in the 21st century is well on his way to the summit of that list. Now 36, Herath, at this rate can very well touch 40 without a dip in his consistency. His exemplary work over the last five years stands testament and the cricketing world continues in its mad quest for the flashy and the spectacular. Herath, meanwhile trundles on , setting up batsmen and outfoxing them using the basics with immaculate precision.
Complete coverage of Pakistan tour of Sri Lanka 2014
(R Vishal is a journalist and alumnus of Asian College of Journalism. He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)