Herath: An underappreciated hero
Not enough comic books have superheroes who are old, short, pudgy with a bad marine haircut, soft round face and pants slightly too high on the waist. But they should. And if they did, they could easily use Rangana Herath as their inspiration even though bowling slow left-arm is not an obvious heroic endeavour.
From a distance Herath probably looks more like a dad watching his kid play than 2012's leading Test wicket-taker. Perhaps it's even that that helps him. It's hard to fear a man when he looks like he should be wearing a Cosby sweater and driving a comfortable second-hand station-wagon.
Sixty wickets from ten matches should have people writing about you as a golden god, I mean seven five-wicket hauls in one year, wow, they should be building statues and changing the pictures on the money in Sri Lanka.
Instead Herath's heroics are seen mostly as a bowler dominating at home. Fifty-four wickets in his seven Tests in Sri Lanka. Yet, Michael Clarke didn't make a hundred away from home this year either. And while his exploits were far grander than Herath's, Clarke has been hyped since he was a teen, Herath has played Tests since 1999 without anyone taking much notice.
Much of that time Herath was the back-up to Murali, a decent job, but one with limited exposure. Murali was machinelike, and often two spinners at once, so there was often little need for Herath.
Now that he is almost the entire bowling attack for Sri Lanka, he essentially is Murali. But he's different as well.
Murali wore batsmen down with spin, bounce and relentlessness, Herath is a proper artist. His spell at the MCG to Clarke and Watson was as good and fruitless a spell a finger spinner can have in Australia.
At times it was like he had Shane Watson's powerful leg on a string, and would move it exactly where he needed it to cause the most amount of anxiousness to Watson. Each floaty ball was a grenade that seemingly gave Watson nightmares as it bounced near him. In real life, Watson would use Herath as a stress ball.
Even Clarke, who is in the sort of form that leads Charlton Heston to play you in a movie, was put through the works with Herath's fielding positions. Like a serial killer with a moral to teach, Herath put his on-side field together in a way that would cause Clarke the absolute-most damage mentally. From the outside it looked like a bowler that would make most club cricketers believe they could survive an over of Test Cricket bowling to the world's form batsman. But if you watched it closely Herath had found a weakness in Clarke, and was willing to wait all day for him to slip up.
Every ball Herath delivers is linked to another one, it's not a delivery, it's part of an overall plan. This game within a game with Clarke seems to be building with every innings. The more accumulated wisdom he gets, the harder it is for Clarke to handle him. Herath is a throwback to the old kind of spinners; sure he has a ball that goes the other way, but his talent isn't in magical balls or stunning deliveries, it's in hours of hard work and the incredibly clever brain of a master spinner.
It looks easy from afar, and it's not as sexy as a 150k yorker, but the fact that someone like Herath is not only in Test cricket, but can play it at this level, shows the amazing talent he has in his extremely mortal frame.
Herath had Watson and Clarke dropped. Not even including the time he should have had Clarke stumped if not for a flick of Clarke's lucky pad. Those two wickets could have changed the entire Test for Sri Lanka, perhaps even the series with Herath having an SCG Test strip next.
Instead Herath's masterful display ended with him losing the Test, the series, and no wickets the last time he bowled in 2012. His only victory was a catch that seemed mostly accidental and all the more awesome because it was him who took it.
Herath didn't become the leading Test wicket-taker in 2012 because of dodgy local tracks. He did it based on a lifetime of spinner's knowledge, battle-weary fingers and the art of subtle deception. The man works hard for every wicket he gets, and does it all without the gift of height or general athletic prowess.
In 2012 Herath was a hero. Even his final deed of 0-95 was heroic, even if it was in vain.