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Revisiting the best of Rangana Herath

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Rangana_Herath_Sri_Lanka_cricketThe first Test between Sri Lanka and England at Galle saw the curtain come down on the international career of one of the most prolific bowlers the game has known. Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, aged 40, called time on his 19-year career at the top level, having served Sri Lanka with distinction after the great Muttiah Muralitharan retired in 2010. The portly bank employee represented his nation in 93 Tests, the first of which was against Australia in 1999.

Though he did not enjoy a perfect farewell – England won by 211 runs – Herath had the satisfaction of going past Richard Hadlee’s tally of 431 wickets, eventually finishing with a total of 433 wickets at 28.07 – the joint eighth-highest in Test history, the fourth-highest by a spinner, and the highest by a left-arm bowler. Moreover, he finished with nine ten-wicket match hauls, the joint third-highest with Hadlee, further underlining the immense value he brought to the side.

Since Muralitharan’s retirement, Herath’s numbers read 362 wickets at 26.15 in 71 Tests, the second-highest return during this period. Thus, it is not surprising that most of his match-winning performances in Test cricket were witnessed in the last eight years, after he was well past 30 years of age. On that note, here is a look back in time at six of his finest performances, in chronological order.

4/49 and 5/79 v South Africa, Second Test, Durban, 2011-12

Sri Lanka came into this Boxing Day Test on the back of a winless streak of 15 Tests – their most recent win was incidentally in Muralitharan’s farewell Test, 17 months earlier. They had never won a Test on South African soil, and had lost the opening Test at Centurion by an innings. Thilan Samaraweera (102) helped Sri Lanka post a competitive 338, which proved enough for a 170-run lead, thanks to the pace-spin duo of Chanaka Welegedera (5/52) and Herath.

Herath provided the ideal foil to Welegedera’s game-changing burst. Kumar Sangakkara (108) consolidated Sri Lanka’s lead, which extended to 449 by the time the innings ended. Herath, later named Man of the Match, was the wrecker-in-chief in the fourth innings, and his five wickets included those of Jacques Kallis (for a duck) and AB de Villiers, who top-scored with 69. He collected the final wicket to fall with the score at 241, handing Sri Lanka a historic 208-run win.

6/74 and 6/97 v England, First Test, Galle, 2011-12

England, then the top-ranked Test team, were rendered helpless against a rampaging Herath at his favourite venue – he finished his career with 102 wickets at 24.94 from 19 Tests at the Galle International Stadium. After a fine 180 from captain Mahela Jayawardene took Sri Lanka to 318, Herath got into the act by denting the English top order. Thanks to Herath, the innings fell apart from 40/1 to 92/6, before ending at 193. Six of the top seven in the line-up succumbed to Herath.

England eventually faced a challenging target of 330. It seemed an unlikely proposition against Herath, and so it proved, as the left-arm spinner duly sent back the openers, captain Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook, with only 48 on the board. A doughty 81-run stand between Jonathan Trott (112) and Matt Prior carried England to 233/4, but Herath dismissed the latter to trigger a collapse and secure a 75-run win for the hosts. This was Herath’s first ten-wicket haul in Tests.

9/127 and 5/57 v Pakistan, Second Test, Colombo, 2014

Herath certainly relished taking on Pakistan, against whom he took a record 106 scalps in 21 Tests. Hence, it is only apt that his best ever Test return came against Pakistan. Requiring a win at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) to square the two-match series, Pakistan managed a first-innings lead of 12 after Sri Lanka made 320. The scorecard was however dominated by Herath, who became the second Sri Lankan (after Muralitharan) to take nine wickets in a Test innings.

Herath’s analysis of 9/127 from 33.3 overs put him in a select club – only 15 men had previously recorded a nine-wicket haul in Tests. In the second innings, Pakistan, chasing 271, ran into Herath again. The middle order fell prey to the guile of Herath, who claimed the key wickets of Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq to extinguish Pakistani hopes. Herath fittingly took the final wicket to complete a rare 14-wicket haul and Sri Lanka’s 105-run victory.  

7/48 v India, First Test, Galle, 2015

If it is Galle, it must be a Herath special. Riding on a heroic 162* from Dinesh Chandimal, Sri Lanka somehow set India a target of 176 despite trailing by 192 on the first innings. Herath, wicketless in the first innings, proceeded to produce a sensational spell. In tandem with off-spinner Tharindu Kaushal, the wily veteran sent India crashing to 65/6 on the fourth morning. The stunned visitors were left with too tall a mountain to climb, and were bowled out for a paltry 112.  

6/81 and 7/64 v Australia, Third Test, Colombo, 2016

Australia had already lost the series after defeats in the first two Tests, but Herath ensured there was no respite in sight for their batsmen at the SSC. Sri Lanka began disastrously, getting reduced to 26/5, and it took an incredible sixth-wicket stand of 211 between Chandimal (132) and Dhananjaya de Silva (129) to swell the total to a sturdy 355. Australia were placed at 267/1 in reply, with Shaun Marsh and captain Steven Smith in the middle, and looked set for a big lead.

Pacer Suranga Lakmal removed Marsh for 130, soon after which Herath came into his own. He sent Smith back for 119, and went on to take five more wickets, limiting Australia’s lead to 24. The contest soon slipped away from Australia, and they were left facing a target of 323. Expectedly, Herath ran riot as Australia capitulated from 77/0 to 160 all out. Herath finished the series with 28 wickets at just 12.75, including a memorable hat-trick in the second Test at Galle.

5/93 and 6/43 v Pakistan, First Test, Abu Dhabi, 2017-18

Herath had one last crack at Pakistan in a two-Test series in the UAE. Pakistan had not lost a series in the UAE since it became their official home venue in 2010-11. On the other hand, Sri Lanka were licking their wounds from a 3-0 shellacking at the hands of India at home the previous month. The opening Test developed into a second-innings shootout, as Sri Lanka piled up 419 (Chandimal 155*), to which Pakistan replied with 422. Herath bowled 40 overs for his fifer.

Sri Lanka, beginning the final day at 69/4, were bowled out for 138, thus setting Pakistan a modest 136, albeit on a crumbling pitch. Herath set the tone by removing Sami Aslam in his second over, and from thereon, the Sri Lankans went for the kill. While his fellow spinner, offie Dilruwan Perera, kept up the pressure at one end, Herath worked his way to another ten-wicket match haul. Pakistan never really recovered from 36/5, and hurtled to a stifling defeat by 21 runs.



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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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