The Lessons We could learn from Herath —Rex Clementine in The Island, 31 March 2012
The country’s one of the most respected cricketers, Kumar Sangakkara once called Rangana Herath ‘the work horse’ of the team. Now that he has emerged as country’s premier bowler, we should talk about his other virtues as well and how tough the rise for him has been having represented two unfashionable entities – Maliyadeva Vidyalaya and Moors SC. (Only two seasons back he left Moors after an association of 14 years after the club got demoted).
Loyalty and perseverance are two virtues of Herath that we should admire. Although HeThe rath made his debut in 1999, opportunities were rare for him due to the presence of champion Muttiah Muralitharan and Sri Lanka always had Sanath Jayasuriya to bowl a bit of left-arm spin.
But occasionally Herath was used in Test cricket, particularly against Pakistan once John Dyson developed this idea that Pakistan were in fact susceptible against left-arm spin.
A consistent run in the national side for Herath after Sanath retired was denied as there emerged a young spinning sensation by the name of Ajantha Mendis and once he started with a bang, Herath was history. But perseverance is Herath’s key to success. When so many young players complain that they are not getting their dues, Herath kept on working hard at his game bowling long spells for his beloved Moors SC in domestic cricket.
Like his bowling, Herath’s lifestyle is methodical. There was an opportunity for him to earn some money by playing league cricket in England in the Staffordshire League in 2009 and he departed to England. But before leaving, he met the selectors and gave them a letter saying that if at all his services were required, he is ever willing to come home.
While in England, Herath attended every match that Sri Lanka played in the T-20 World Cup travelling frequently to Nottingham and London from his base close to Manchester. Those mattered took notice how much Herath’s loyalty to Sri Lankan cricket. Little would he have realized that in two weeks time he himself would be playing for the country?
Just 48 hours prior to the opening Test Match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Muralitharan pulled out of the series with a knee injury. A replacement was required and suddenly those mattered, particularly skipper Sangakkara thought of Herath, not only because of this theory that Pakistan had a problem against left arm spin, but his continuous commitment towards Sri Lanka cricket.
The selectors called Herath up in England and the bowler thought that it was a prank. “I was about to leave to the gym when the phone rang. I was required to be in Colombo as soon as possible,” Herath remembered.
He played the Galle Test after arriving in Colombo less than 24 hours before the game and managed just one wicket in the first innings. Chasing a target of 168, Pakistan were cruising at 71 for two at stumps on day three and Herath had failed to pick up a wicket.
After day’s play, heading back to the hotel an interesting conversation developed between the hierarchy of Sri Lanka Cricket. A leading official asked whether banking on Herath is the right move looking into the future. He also suggested that for the second Test at P. Sara a particular leg-spinner should be tried and in fact fired a call to the player’s agent to find his whereabouts. (We believe that player agents should be avoided like a plague and it’s a pity that SLC considers them important)
But what happened the following day is history. Herath bowled Sri Lanka to a sensational win as Pakistan collapsed losing their last eight wickets for 47 runs. That set the tone for a historic first ever home series win against Pakistan.
“I honestly didn’t think that I would be called up for that game. But I guess that I had done the sensible thing by giving the selectors a letter before leaving to England. Once I got the call to be in Colombo at the earliest possible, it was all about getting the right mindset to play the game. To win that Test and be the Man of the Match was absolutely sensational,” Herath went onto add.
Sangakkara heaped praise on Herath as well on that occasion. “All credit should go to Rangana, who has been a magnificent performer in domestic cricket and even in Test cricket whenever he has got an opportunity,” Sangakkara added.
Herath has not looked back since. Although he called his match winning heroics in Galle to complete a 75 run win against England on Thursday his most memorable moment in his cricket life, for Sri Lankan supporters the historic Durban win last December is hard to forget.
After the World Cup triumph and that Test win at The Oval in 1998, the Durban Test of 2011 is Sri Lankan cricket’s other greatest moment. Herath or Cheese kota, as we fondly call him at the press box, will be remembered for that for not even the great Muralitharan was able to win us a Test in South Africa.
All-time cricket XIs conjure up an image of impressive faces and physiques, with figures to match. Not someone dumpy and stocky, a bit of a dumpling. But Rangana Herath, who bowled and persevered until Sri Lanka had beaten England in the opening Test match, has to find a place in his country’s all-time side.
As England sought a target of 340, in vain, Herath passed ten wickets in the match. It doesn’t sound a fantastic feat, not for a spinner in Asia, but it was still enough to seal Herath’s notional place in his national history. The offspinner in Sri Lanka’s all-time Test XI can only Muttiah Muralitharan. He took ten wickets in a Test 22 times – far more than anyone else in the annals. Yes, Murali with his 800 Test wickets merits the offspinner’s spot.
But Herath kept on chipping away, as he has for most of his 34 years. Ok, England donated to him several wickets in their first innings, what with their predetermined sweeps and misjudgments in playing back, but Herath still bagged six.
And when the pressure was on him – when Jonathan Trott eased to his century, using all the patience and mental discipline which he has at his command, and which so few of his colleagues have possessed this winter – Herath hung in, doggedly, and never let England run away.
When the breakthrough came, it was made by Herath as well as a wonderful piece of fielding by his short-leg fielder. When Matt Prior swept the left-arm spinner, Thirimanne moved to his right and swallowed the ball with his stomach as much as his hands.
Once again, perseverance proved to be the most important attribute of a spinner. Herath hung in until his luck turned – and England’s faintest hopes turned to the same substance as the surface of Galle’s pitch.
Even though this was the first time Herath had taken ten wickets in a Test, only Murali and Chaminda Vaas – the left-arm medium-pacer who will open the bowling for Sri Lanka’s all-time XI – has taken a ten-wicket Test haul more often, and Vaas did it twice.
Herath is now third in Sri Lanka’s list of all-time wicket-takers, after Murali and Vaas. Only Lasith Malinga indeed, who will open the bowling for the all-time XI, dreadlocks flapping, has taken 100 Test wickets apart from these three.
The fact is that bowling spin in Sri Lanka is hard work, fit only for those who persevere. The pitches turn, for sure, but the soil means the ball comes slowly off the track – and most of your opponents have learned to belt spinners from their earliest schooldays.
It is no disgrace that England could not chase down 340. It was a disgrace that they could not bat for 50 overs at their first attempt, which was when they lost the game, but their second innings brought their first individual century of the winter and some hope for the second Test.
But chasing 340 was always going to be too much. As soon as they got close and the pressure mounted, the wickets were going to fall. Because England were up against a doughty if unsung opponent in Herath, the proud owner of 132 Test wickets.