At 39, Rangana Herath still continues to make vital contributions for Sri Lanka in Tests. The island country recently became the first team to defeat Pakistan in Tests in the UAE and Herath played a huge role there, by picking 16 wickets in two Tests. Although, Pakistan’s Yasir Shah too took as many wickets but since Sri Lanka won the series, Herath’s contribution was recognised more. The UAE tour ended up evolving the Sri Lankan side from Ashes after their poor run in the recent times. And in all the good results, Herath has always been one of the pillars.
When Sri Lanka landed in India for a full-fledged series, their country people would have only hoped that the Indians showed some mercy when they defeated the visitors in the Test series. However, first the Captain Dinesh Chandimal showed belief in his boys and now Herath admitted that he thinks the team has the potential to create history in India. Sri Lanka first toured India in 1982; 35 years have passed and the Lankans are still looking for a Test win in India.
“It’s one of my dreams. How wonderful it would be to win a Test match in India as we have never won there before. The series win in Pakistan has given us lot of confidence. That winning mentality is important. If we show the same fighting spirit that we showed against Pakistan, we can win in India,” Sri Lanka’s current oldest player, Herath said.
He recently became the first left-arm spinner to take 400 Test wickets and that milestone will keep him driving for a while now.
The first Test is being hosted by Kolkata’s Eden Gardens and the pitch has been in the favour of fast bowlers so far. Neither the World No. 1 and 2 duo of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin nor Herath has been successful so far with the ball. In India’s first innings, Herath remained wicketless as the likes of Suranga Lakmal, Gamage, Dilruwan Perera and Shanaka made breakthroughs. The situation was same when Sri Lanka came out to bat; only Shami, Bhuveneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav were among the wicket-takers.
The Lankan openers were sent back to the dugout quite early in the innings as the visitors were two down for just 34 runs. Then came the table turning partnership; Lahiru Thirimanne and Angelo Matthews went on to put up 99 runs for the third wicket and that put Sri Lanka on the driving seat so early in the game, against anyone’s expectations. Yadav broke the stand as he dismissed Thirimanne and from there the middle-order was brushed aside. Herath came in at 201 for 7 after three wickets had fallen for one run, pulling India back into the action.
He bats in his own style, is amusing and clumsy occasionally, but Rangana Herath is the person you want in a tough situation. Invaluable 50, this
— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) November 19, 2017
If the track was against the spinners, Herath found a way out to help Sri Lanka out in the match. Although he averages less than 20 in First-Class cricket, he still has scored 4000+ runs in 258 First-Class matches and should say something about the batsman in Herath. However, he has always struggled to replicate that on the international level. After making his Test debut in 1999, he only managed to hit his first Test fifty in 2010, which was also against India in Galle. That was followed by a draught for the next six years which only ended in 2016 when he hit a gritty second Test fifty during the series against England.
Priceless 67 runs from @HerathRSL almost ensuring that only two results are now possible in this match,a Sri Lankan win or draw
— Azzam Ameen (@AzzamAmeen) November 19, 2017
Until now, Herath’s unbeaten 80 against India in 2010 was his best-ever knock in Test cricket. He scored that off just 93 balls where he smashed 10 boundaries and a six too. However, Sri Lanka were always in a good position in that innings, thanks to centuries from Tharanga Paranavitana and Kumar Sangakkara so there was no pressure on Herath when he came out to bat at No. 8.
However, when Herath walked in the same position, seven years later, today in Eden gardens, Sri Lanka wanted something special to keep the edge with them in the innings. It was Day four and the wicket had been eased considerably, it did not seem a huge task for Herath to settle down. He stuck around for 83 minutes, frustrated the Indians, entertained them and took Sri Lanka ahead with his score of 67 off 105 balls. Herath added 43 runs with Perera for the eighth wicket and that helped Sri Lanka gain a healthy lead (122 runs) much farther ahead than India would have been comfortable with.
Splendid @HerathRSL rising to the occasion with the bat! A fifty for him and the lead over a 100 now for SL. Great going for an under dog side who had no chance to take the game to the last day according to Pundits.
— Roshan Abeysinghe (@RoshanCricket) November 19, 2017
En route to his second best Test score, Herath helped himself with nine boundaries and that was possible because the likes of Bhuvi and Umesh bowled short balls repeatedly to him, in a hope of making a breakthrough. However, in return, Herath played some delightful pull shots, mostly to midwickets, and therefore made things intense in the Indian camp. There was no doubt that both the sides fully enjoyed the play. While the Indians threw everything possible at Herath but the latter was always alert enough to deal with it. He studied the ground thoroughly and depending on the line, he made full use of either side of the ground.
Herath even managed to make the Indian captain smile despite the fierce atmosphere on the field as they were unable to bowl out the Lankans. It was the fourth ball of the 55th over, Herath hit Bhuvi for a four off the second ball; the Indian pacer then retorted with a cracker of a delivery that climbed onto the batman. That forced Herath to play an evasive shot to escape the delivery and witnessing that Virat Kohli could not help but smile.
With India well on the way to negate Herath’s job with the bat, he must step up with the ball too. Although he is known for being the second innings star, he was ripped apart, mercilessly by the Indian batsmen. He gave away 25 runs in his first three overs and was never recalled after that. With the final day tomorrow, a result looks difficult but all Herath can do now is repair the damage he has done to his figures in the match.