When India last toured Sri Lanka for a three-match Test series, not many would have thought that this would be the start of a new chapter that was about to unfold in the Indian cricket. After a disheartening defeat at Galle, India bounced back hard in the second game and went on to win the three-match Test series. This was the start of a glorious winning streak that India was going to produce in the series to come. India went on to record seven back-to-back Test series win and scripted numerous records with their prolific run in whites. Since the Sri Lanka series in 2015, India are yet to lose or draw a Test series and have won it all. And Sri Lanka have an opportunity to put brakes on India’s run and end the winning streak from where it all started.
India has played a lot of Test cricket at home in the recent times and enjoyed an unparalleled dominance in their backyard. The forthcoming series in Sri Lanka is their first assignment on foreign soil after six Test series. Sri Lanka have always being conducive for spinners and Ranagan Herath has been their tormentor-in-chief with the red cherry. Herath has led the spin attack with unmatched confidence and has done a commendable job.
Herath has mastered the art of spin bowling; his forte is his immaculate control and accuracy. Herath has a lethal slider that angles in after pitching. He banks on a sound technique of spin bowling – flight, drift and dip. With the threat of spin mounting over both the teams, Herath will be the man to watch out in the three-match Test series for Sri Lanka.
Herath has had a wonderful run in the recent times in whites. He wreaked havoc when Australia toured Sri Lanka last year. In three Tests, Herath scalped 28 wickets at a mind-boggling average of 12.75. He ripped through the Australian batting single-handedly and was one of the key reasons behind Sri Lanka’s victory. Australia had no answer to Herath’s assault!
After whitewashing Australia at home, Sri Lanka toured Zimbabwe. The two-match Test series, saw the visitors emerging victorious and clean sweep Zimbabwe in their backyard. Herath was once again unstoppable with the ball, accounting for 19 Zimbabwean wickets in four innings at an awe-inspiring average of 15.10. Herath bowled with guile and did extremely well in the chipping wickets in heap.
A lot of Sri Lanka’s success highly depends on the way Herath fares. After enjoying a magnificent run, Sri Lanka suffered a huge blow against South Africa. When the Proteas toured Sri Lanka for a three-match Test series few months back, Herath didn’t enjoy a prolific run, which affected his team massively. Herath picked just six wickets in three Tests as Sri Lanka were whitewashed in their own den.
Herath bounced back emphatically in the two-match series against Bangladesh at home, picking 16 wickets in two Tests at 18. He picked nine wickets in the first encounter at Galle and helped his side beat Bangladesh by a massive margin on 259. Then came the one-off test against Zimbabwe, where Herath lived up to the expectations and accounted for 11 Zimbabwean wickets. Zimbabwe did an outstanding job in scoring big runs and setting up a huge target for the hosts in the fourth innings. But, some determined batting and disciplined approach saw them chasing won a record target.
One shouldn’t forget, India, in the recent times, have not looked very dominating, especially in the start. For example: Dean Elgar scalped four key wickets at Nagpur and put India on the back foot. Adil Rashid had seven wickets to his name in the series opener at Rajkot and ended the tour with 23 wickets in his basket. Steven O’Keefe left India bewildered in the Pune Test when he picked 12 wickets with his wily left-arm spin and helped Australia gain a healthy lead in the inaugural game. Herath also did a decent job in picking 15 wickets in three Tests against India in 2015. In fact, he guided his side to a scintillating win at Galle by picking seven wickets in the fourth innings. Also, India have looked short of confidence on rank-turners. And their run at Nagpur and Pune (which were and turners) against South Africa and Australia are a testament to it. Against South Africa at Nagpur, a rank turner, India managed to get 215 and 173 in two innings respectively. At Pune, against Australia, India garnered just 105 and 107 in two innings.
India have a plethora of right-handers in their batting line-up, which could be a benefiting factor for Herath. Sri Lanka have been going through a transition phase, and this series could well be a turning point in their cricket career. It’s a golden opportunity for Sri Lanka to end the transition phase and announce themselves on the grandest stage of international cricket. India are clear favourites going into this tournament and if Sri Lanka are eyeing to put up a fight, Herath will have to pick a lot of wickets. His success with the ball is very crucial for Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka have been a surprise package in the recent times. They created a massive upset by beating India in the ICC Champions Trophy and silent their harshest critics by chasing 388 in the fourth innings against Zimbabwe. There have been sparks of brilliance but often let down by inconsistency. Dinesh Chandimal is not available for the series opener; Herath has been appointed as the stand-in skipper. And one can expect him to lead the side with example and pick wickets.