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January 2, 2013

Sri Lanka in Australia 2012-13

Herath: An underappreciated hero

Jarrod Kimber
Rangana Herath picked up 5 for 96, Australia v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Hobart, 4th day, December 17, 2012
Rangana Herath's achievements have not been given their due credit  © Getty Images
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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.

Jarrod Kimber is 50% of the Two Chucks, and the mind responsible for cricketwithballs.com

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by peiris on (January 5, 2013, 10:01 GMT)

Sri Lankan selectors should seriously consider HERATH to be the next CAPTAIN as he is the only player with experience who could be sure of a place in the side. He is a thinker a man with a brain if you know what I mean.

Posted by CricketPissek on (January 4, 2013, 9:22 GMT)

@Dean Frenkel - I do see your point. However, Herath has been so under appreciated over the past 13-14 years, that even this recent surge in praise by commentators doesn't quite do it. He may be only averaging 50 in the current Aus series, but he has had to many chances dropped off him! The SL batting, support bowling, and fielding have all let him down really. It's one of the reasons Murali did so badly in Australia too. Herath has had NO support, but he is wonderful to watch. If he was Indian, we would hear no end about how he is the reincarnation of Bishen Singh Bedi or something! Anyway, I don't think Herath cares whether he is unsung or sung about. He'll carry on doing his hard work and hope for a good tally by the time he retires.

Posted by ygkd on (January 3, 2013, 19:09 GMT)

This Sri Lankan tour Down Under has not been a success, but then the warm-up opportunity was a less-than-impressive 3-dayer and there are always the over-riding problems back in SL to throw things into turmoil. However, despite all of this, Rangana Herath, along with quite a few of his team-mates, has shown himself to be a decent cricketer and, quite probably, a decent, humble human being as well. I wish him well.

Posted by Wardenlo70 on (January 3, 2013, 7:05 GMT)

Thank you Mr. Kimber for appreciating our unsung hero Rangana Herath. I wouldn't say he is the best spinner that the world of cricket has today but I would say he is amongst the best in the world instead. However, sadly, we will not witness this working class spinner in 2013 because we have some stupid ODI's or T20's or SLPL nonsense and not tests. SLC does not consider him the shorter version stuff so he will be stuck in limbo during 2013 which is a crying shame. besides, I doubt he has many more years of test cricket ahead of him as he is nearing 35. A Disappointed SL cricket fan

Posted by faumi on (January 3, 2013, 6:21 GMT)

He was always under rated not only in international level but even in the domestic circuit .He played for moors sc in Sri Lanka and he had all the ingredients to be a world class bowler but sadly was unnoticed.Now Rangana him self under rates his batting ability belive me he can really bat wel.Thanks kimber for taking time to write a wel deserved article.

Posted by udendra on (January 3, 2013, 4:38 GMT)

So true!

Posted by Dean Frenkel on (January 3, 2013, 1:49 GMT)

So Herath has become the flavour of the month - the super-model of the cricket fashion world. Where he was once under-estimated and under-appreciated, Kimber's article and a lot of fawning commentary has re-balanced itself and gone overboard in its attempts to deify Herath. The sudden realisation that he's taken the most wickets has triggered many to lose their bearings. I bet you that Herath won't get the most Test wickets in 2013. Finally I invite you to look at his bowling average in the current Test series in Australia. He has taken five wickets at 53 per wicket.

Posted by Woody Venkat on (January 2, 2013, 23:34 GMT)

Love Ranga so much seriously such a crafty operator. A throwback test match spinner.

Posted by dodgylocaltracks on (January 2, 2013, 21:36 GMT)

"dodgy local tracks"? Why is it when subcontinetal strips are slow and turning its considered a dodgy track , yet when pitches in england, australia etc are fast, green and bouncy its not. Both suit the home team. So why is only one considered dodgy!

mneh.

Posted by Swampy on (January 2, 2013, 20:31 GMT)

Great article and a deserved appreciation of Herath. He didn't get a wicket in Melbourne but I thought he was the second-best Sri Lankan player in the test, after Sanga. His bowling was excellent, no one looked comfortable playing him and his attitude and commitment in adversity was superb. Hope he gets the wickets he deserves in Sydney.

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