The legendary Rangana Herath delivered the goods yet again, but has the time come for the legend to say goodbye?
The inevitable happened on Day 4 at Colombo. Sri Lanka comfortably defeated South Africa in the second Test by 199 runs to complete a 2-0 whitewash. However, the Proteas unlike the previous three innings, offered some resistance and delayed Sri Lanka their victory. It was Theunis de Bruyn, plying only in his sixth Test, who scored a superb hundred and was well supported by Temba Bavuma (63). The duo added 123 for the sixth wicket. However, it was Herath, who used all his experience into play and dismissed both the batsmen. He picked four more wickets besides these and now has a total of 430 Test wickets. He is now the eighth highest wicket-taker in the format, one behind Richard Hadlee and four scalps behind Kapil Dev.
Herath started his career as a second fiddle beside the great Muttiah Muralitharan and it is only after his retirement that Herath was the primary spinner for Sri Lanka. It was only after 2010 that Herath became a regular in the Sri Lankan side. He made his debut in 1999 in the Galle Test against Australia, replacing Upul Chandana. After playing three Tests, he had to wait for almost 4 years to play his next game. He was in the side on and off till September 2005, but then once again disappeared from the Test arena for almost three years.
However, one cannot argue that he deserves to play for Sri Lanka at this level. He has one of the least complicated actions in Test cricket and can give the ball a rip. However, despite being around for a while, many of the best batsmen in the world have not been able to pick the ball that goes straight on. His mystery despite being at the international arena for 19 years still continues. That is the mark of a great bowler unlike a few like Ajantha Mendis, who seemed to be mysterious at the beginning, but soon enough the batsmen started picking his off-spinners and carrom balls.
Having said that, numbers do not lie. And the numbers indicate that Herath has picked up wickets on conditions which are favourable to him. Great bowlers have a few spells around the world, where they have defied the odds and conditions and picked up numerous wickets. But, Herath has just two five-wicket hauls outside Asia – one in England and one in Australia. Outside the comforts of the subcontinent, Herath has not done much of sigificance.
One might argue that it is the case with many of the current Indian spinners as well, but some of the greats like Anil Kumble or Harbhajan Singh have done exceedingly well in alien conditions, which is the reason why it became increasingly difficult for the Indian team management to play just one of the two. Kumble had a memorable 2003-04 tour of Australia, where he picked up a 5-for, 6-for and the most memorable one of them all an 8-for in continuous Tests. Harbhajan too was not far behind. In India’s historic Test series win in New Zealand in 2009, where the fast bowlers were earmarked to dominate, he returned with 16 wickets from three Tests, including a 6-63 at Hamilton.
In fact, if we dig a little deeper, Herath has done very little of significance when Sri Lanka have won overseas, especially outside Asia. To further reiterate this point, Herath has almost 64 percent wickets in Sri Lanka and a staggering 81.62 percent wickets in Asia. That is some figure, for someone who has 400-plus wickets. However, if we compare the same with Muttiah Muralitharan, Murali had 61.63 percent wickets in Sri Lanka and 67.5 percent of his wickets in Asia.
However, like Shane Warne, Muralitharan too could generate turn in any part of the world – be it dust bowls or flat tracks. Like many other spinners around the world, Herath does not have that ability. However, one has to stick to their strengths and hope that it pays dividends. Cricket is, after all, a team game. If the spinners don’t do the job for you, the pacers will have to step up. But what makes a player special is that he does well in conditions that he is not expected to do well. Herath, barring a few performances in Sri Lanka and in and around Asia, has been less than inspiring.
Sri Lanka welcome England next after which they play a Test series in Australia. As far as they are concerned, they should look to groom a spinner for that tour as they will find plenty of good spinners who could bowl in the dust bowls for Sri Lanka. Herath making way for them might be a good option. Spinners like Akila Dananjaya and Lakshan Sandakan are getting very limited opportunities at the moment. It’s perhaps time to give them a longer rope for the betterment of Sri Lankan cricket.
Sri Lanka cannot rest on their laurels with this series win against South Africa. They still have some way to go and needs to keep on improving to rekindle their past glory.