Lasith Embuldeniya, another left-arm orthodox customer is all set to carry on the legacy of Rangana Herath……
Legends in any sport are very hard to replace and when we are talking about cricketing legends, even finding someone to deliver results as possibly close to what the legends had delivered, in itself is a very hard task let alone thinking of completely replacing them. But if a team has the luxury of a player who rises above all to fill the void created by the outgoing legend and carves out his own niche, then let me tell you, the team is very very fortunate indeed. Something similar was the case with Sri Lankan Cricket Team when Muttiah Muralitharan, a man sitting on the colossal pile of 800 Test wickets, called it quits to the Test cricket way back in Galle in 2010.
Although Murali could never be replaced, Sri Lankan Team had the luxury of Rangana Herath who ensured that the team and the nation didn’t miss the legend much. During the period between Murali’s retirement and his own retirement in November 2018, Herath took 27 five-wicket hauls in an inning and 8 hauls of ten wickets for the match – the most by any bowler in the world in that period. But the only constant thing about time is that it changes and with it, the fortunes also change. That is best exemplified by the spin-department of Sri Lankan Cricket Team which was once manned by the best names in business in the whole world but is sadly now struggling to find a worthy successor of the legacy left behind by the likes of Muralitharan and Herath.
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Sri Lankan quest to find an ideal all-conditions replacement for Herath has led to an array of bowlers starting with Tharindu Kaushal, who couldn’t translate his domestic success onto the international level and even his Doosra was banned by ICC in 2015. Next, it was Malinda Pushpakumara who raised hopes, only to wither away soon enough. Akila Dhananjaya, too, is under scrutiny for his action. Lakshan Sandakan is also one option but the left-arm wrist spinner is far too extravagant in conceding runs and finally Dilruwan Perera, who was touted to be the most worthy of all, but he too couldn’t blossom on the Australian soil where he not only conceded a lot of runs but also was ineffective in picking up wickets. Amidst such despair came a 22-year old tall lad named Lasith Embuldeniya who walked away with a maiden five-for on debut and that too on the South African soil.
His first-class record is as good as they come with 125 wickets in just 21 matches at a phenomenal average of 20.13 with 11 five-wicket hauls. One can argue that the pitches in Sri Lankan club circuit are made conducive for spin bowlers but Embuldeniya’s bowling in Kingsmead should put to rest such wild criticism of his numbers. A stroll-like approach to the crease culminating into the ball gently coming out of that left-hand grip are the reminiscent features which would invariably link him to Herath. But don’t get fooled by the leisurely delivery stride because you might be taken by surprise, as were the South Africans, with the doings of the ball which, in turn, are a result of the work done by Embuldeniya’s hand and fingers over the ball.
His guiles and tricks were on full display in the second innings of South Africa. His tall frame and high-arm release of the ball helped him extract bounce off the Kingsmead Surface- a quantity so rare in the dust bowls of Sri Lanka- which aided him in troubling the batsmen consistently. Besides that, he made good use of the overspin and sidespin on the ball along with making it dip as he wished. The wickets of Dean Elgar (foxed by ball dipping in front of him while he advanced down the track resulting in a sharp caught and bowled) and Temba Bavuma (missing the ball on the sweep due to the extravagant dip resulting in him getting LBW) were a result of masterful use of the dipping ball by the young spinner.
If Elgar and Bavuma were foxed by the dip, it was the turn which accounted for the wickets of Quinton de Kock and Kagiso Rabada while Vernon Philander got castled by a sucker ball which kept perilously low. Besides the turning and dipping balls, he also has one which skids on straight, after pitching. Through the course of his figures of 5 wickets for 66 runs, Embuldeniya showed the completeness of his spin bowling, which included beating the batsmen on almost every delivery that is expected of a finger spinner.
Though it will be futile to compare him, at this moment with Herath, but he, like Herath, showed that he has the tenacity to face the toughest of bowlers without throwing his wicket away. His 63-ball stay in the first innings against the likes of Steyn, Rabada, and Philander was like a baptism by fire of his batting abilities which he survived decently well.
Sri Lankan Team needs a spinner who can be effective and economical at the same time and in the home and away conditions both if they want to be reckoned in the International Cricketing Arena. Embuldeniya has shown that he can be the answer to Sri Lankan spin woes provided he is taken care of well and allowed to blossom on its own – something that the Sri Lankan Cricket is not known for recently. As of now, it’s a bright start for the youngster, in whom, we see a lot of potentials to carry forward the renowned spin legacy of the Sri Lankan soil.