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Rangana Herath: The Unrelenting Champion

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Rangana_Herath_Sri_Lanka_cricketRangana Herath never appears to be menacing as a bowler. He doesn’t give batsmen sleepless nights. He doesn’t believe in theatrics. He just ambles on to the crease very smoothly and unhurriedly and goes about his job silently and dedicatedly. And yet, he is one of the best spin bowlers ever and even at 39 years of age, refuses to relent.

The portly Sri Lankan tweaker is the most successful left-arm spinner in history and continues to be his country’s beacon of hope. Even though Herath’s name is not taken in the same breath as some of the other great bowling legends, his prolific feats have now ensured that his name shall forever be imprinted in the annals of cricket history.

Herath, who was a banker before taking up cricket professionally, has been in international cricket since 1999. He was, like so many other players, in the shadow of the great Muttiah Muralitharan for a large part of his early career. But he has now made his own mark. He has toiled hard, very hard on his way up and is carrying a mediocre attack on his stout shoulders today.

With a match-winning performance in the Test against Zimbabwe, Herath proved that he is still Sri Lanka’s best bet. The kind of relentless grit and passion that Herath has displayed over the years, despite the various ups and downs in his career, has been exemplary and today he is well and truly an exceptional role model for the coming generation.

 

What makes Herath special

With 385 wickets in 82 Tests at an average of 28.15, Herath is the most successful left-arm spinner in the world and if he can continue his form for a little while, he will soon become the most successful left-arm bowler ever in Test history by overtaking the great Wasim Akram.

 

With 31 five-wicket hauls in his Test career, Herath is now the fifth on the all-time list of bowlers with most five-wicket hauls and he may well end up in the top three by the end of his career. Herath also has 8 ten-wicket match hauls to his name. Only three other bowlers in Test history – Muttiah Muralitharan (22), Shane Warne (10) and Richard Hadlee (9) – have taken ten wickets in a match on more occasions than Herath.

 

These records, however, do not make Herath special. Herath’s specialty lies in his simplicity and in his unassuming ways. While Muttiah Muralitharan relied on prodigious turn, Herath depends on his unrelenting accuracy and ability to bowl long spells at a stretch. He keeps coming at the batsman over after over and keeps attempting to bog them down with his variations and precision.

Herath ambles up to bowl and makes the ball grip the surface to deceive batsmen. His strength lies in the fact that as he is trundling up the crease, almost innocuously, he never gives an impression of delivering a dangerous ball. However, his steady mix of rippers, floaters, and round-arm darters often do the batsmen in. 

At a time when most bowlers these days scream for attention, Hearth’s slowness and simplicity is truly refreshing. He doesn’t sledge, he doesn’t possess any mystery balls and he does not have any extravagant action. But Rangana Herath is special. He is the last Test player to make his debut in the 20th century. For that, we need to cherish him as much as we can before he too fades away.

 

Taking over from Murali

For a significant part of his career, Rangana Herath lived under the shadows of the great Muttiah Muralitharan. In his early days, he was seen as a supporting bowler to Murali. But some indifferent form, trysts with injuries and bad luck resulted in Herath being continuously moved in and out from the side. From 1999-2010, Herath played just 22 Tests and could pick up only 71 wickets.

However, since Murali’s retirement, Herath has been Sri Lanka’s go-to bowler and has taken up the mantle of being his country’s biggest match-winner with great aplomb. After Murali stepped down in July 2010, Herath has picked up 314 wickets at an average of 25.94 with 27 five-wicket and eight 10-wicket hauls. Only James Anderson, with 315, has taken as many wickets, and he played 17 more Tests than Herath.

Despite being out of favour when Murali reigned supreme in Sri Lanka, Herath did not give up. He went through the grind of domestic cricket, picked up his form and made his way back into the team as a regular. Today, he is the team’s biggest match-winner and is amongst the top bowlers in world cricket in the longer format.

 

When Murali had bid adieu to the game, it was expected that Sri Lankan cricket would be left with a gaping void that would never be filled. But Herath has clearly relished the responsibility that the great off-spinner left for him. This can be especially be gauged by his numbers in victories for Sri Lanka – 211 scalps in 33 Tests at 19.01 with 22 five-wicket hauls.

 

At home he has been simply outstanding, claiming 259 wickets in 45 Tests with 25 five-wicket hauls. With his accuracy and subtle variations, Herath has also found great success in overseas conditions and has produced some match-winning performances for the team in places like Australia, England and South Africa. His most notable effort overseas came in the 2011 Test in Durban against South Africa, where Herath’s match figures of 9 for 128 were instrumental in helping Sri Lanka achieve their first ever Test victory in South Africa. He also played a crucial part in Sri Lanka’s famous win over England at Lord’s in 2014.

So while Rangana Herath might not have the mind-boggling numbers of Muralitharan, he certainly has done his fair bit for his country to be considered one of its greatest champions.

 

A modern great 

World cricket today is obsessed with superstars. Rangana Herath, with his pudgy fingers and stout build, does not fit the description of a contemporary cricketing superstar. But there is no question that he is a modern great.

Herath does not crave stardom. He never has. He will soldier on regardless of the lack of attention he gets. He is an unrelenting champion, who, much like a resolute boxer, will keep coming at his opponent doggedly. 

One sincerely hopes that by the time he rides off into the sunset, Rangana Herath would have added a few more feathers to his illustrious cap. And even though the world might not be giving it much notice, Herath, one can be certain, will be donning that cap quite proudly.

 

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