Rex Clementine, in Island, 4 October 2017, with title “How Sanga backed Herath when he was out of the radar”
Kumar Sangakkara jokes with Rangana Herath during a Test match. Sangakkara was responsible for bringing Herath back into Test cricket at a time he had fallen off the radar.
It is a shame that Kumar Sangakkara’s captaincy lasted for less than two years. However, in that short period, Sanga introduced a new culture into the team. With firm backing from coach Trevor Bayliss, he supported those who were committed to the team’s cause and in the meantime kicked out those who lacked focus. The results were stunning as Sri Lanka recorded a maiden series win in Australia and recorded first ever home series wins – Tests and ODIs – against Pakistan. Into the bargain, there were also two ICC finals – 2009 World T-20 final and 2011 World Cup final.Some of the decisions he took didn’t go down too well, but over a longer period of time he has been proven right. His debut series as captain was when Pakistan visited Sri Lanka in July 2009. Muttiah Muralitharan hurt his knee during training and the selectors asked Sanga whom he preferred as replacement.
Ajantha Mendis was already in the squad and his next best options were – 24-year-old off-spinner Suraj Randiv, who had taken 43 First Class wickets that season and leg-spinner Malinga Bandara, who had made an impressive comeback having gone onto play the 2007 World Cup. But Sanga being Sanga was thinking out of the box. He said that he would like to have Rangana Herath.
Herath didn’t have a contract with SLC at that point. Worse, he was not even in the country. He had gone to England to play in the Staffordshire League representing Moddershall CC. Herath was called up from England. He landed in Galle less than 24 hours before the Test match and spun Sri Lanka to a famous Test win. Herath was named Man of the Match as Pakistan chasing a target off 168 crashed to 117 all out.
“I remember in one Test match against South Africa, Rangana played in the absence of Murali and took seven wickets. Then he was cut off for four years as he had failed to make it to the Inter-Provincial First Class cricket tournament. He was far far better to not to get a slot in the Provincial side,” Sangakkara told The Island.
“I need to give a lot of credit to the selectors as well. They knew that he had been out of the system, but once I said that I needed Rangana, Ashantha de Mel, who was the Chairman of Selectors at that time was willing to call him,” Sangakkara recalled.
Herath has been sensational since his return to Test cricket and has won the team matches singlehandedly. He was Man of the Match when Sri Lanka won their first ever Test match in South Africa in 2011 having taken nine wickets and he was Man of the Match again in Abu Dhabi as Pakistan suffered their first ever Test defeat at this ground earlier this week.
Set an insignificant target of 136 to win, Pakistan collapsed in sensational style as they were bowled out for 114 runs. Sri Lanka won by 21 runs as Herath took six wickets in the second innings and 11 in the game. He also went onto become the first left-arm spinner in the history of the game to take 400 Test wickets and the first bowler ever to claim 100 Test wickets against Pakistan.
Since his comeback, Herath has been sensational having taken 364 wickets in 70 Tests at 26. Only James Anderson has taken more wickets in the same time frame with 378 wickets in 92 Tests.