Third England tour brings back fond memories for Herath
Galle was the scene of Rangana Herath's second coming as a cricketer, but before he wrapped up Pakistan's second innings in that 2009 series, he was playing in the Staffordshire leagues. A domestic stalwart, but an undistinguished international bowler till then, Herath had begun to think of a career beyond the Sri Lanka team.
"In 2009 I was 31, and at the time I was only in the A team, which didn't play a lot of cricket," Herath said. "So I gave the selectors a letter asking if I could play in England. Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis were both in the Sri Lanka team at the time as well. They let me come to England, but the chief selector told me to be ready to come back if we need to. That's the one condition they imposed."
As it turned out, Murali injured his shoulder three days ahead of the Pakistan series, and a Kumar Sangakkara phone call found Herath in Stoke-on-Trent, about 90 miles southwest of Leeds. He left immediately for Galle, thinking this would be his final chance at the top level. In the seven years since, Herath has arguably been Sri Lanka's most consistent Test matchwinner.
He prepares now for his third and final tour of England. Those months in Staffordshire, then later Surrey and Hampshire, should serve him nicely in the weeks to come, he said. The trick in England is to outwit your opponent, not dazzle them.
"All that time in England is a positive because a lot of people struggle in these conditions with the cold," Herath said. "All that has added to my experience. More than the technique here, it's more about identifying weaknesses in players and assessing situations here. It's important to work out how batsmen are using their feet, and to figure out if they are stronger square of the wicket, or if they are driving well.
"You have to know which balls they will try to attack, and which areas they will try to hit you to. It's not easy conditions for any spinner. Your technique does also have to be sound. With my action, I'm confident that it is."
The seam attack that had success on the 2014 tour is back this time, and in them lies the present squad's greatest strength. Dhammika Prasad has been ruled out of the first Test, but still there is enough venom in the attack to rough England up, Herath said.
"We have a lot of confidence from having won the last series, and we have added to the attack since then," Herath said. "I have lots of faith that we can take 20 wickets here. Last time we didn't have Dushmantha Chameera. He is an extra quick option for us. When the quicks are attacking, I have to slip into that supporting role and keep it tight from my side. On the fourth or fifth day, I will get some opportunities as well."
England have at times struggled against slow bowling, but appear to have up-skilled on that front in the past 18 months. Herath was clear on identifying the players who posed the greatest threat to his bowling.
"England have got some new players as well, in James Vince, Alex Hales and also Nick Compton, who's been in and out of the side, but Joe Root and Alastair Cook are the really good players of spin," Herath said. "Cook's closing in on 10,000 runs. You have to be a good player of both spin and pace to do that."
But having arrived in England with little form and few victories in the past seven months, Sri Lanka are searching desperately for inspiration. Herath hopes the memory of their penultimate-ball triumph at Headingley in 2014 will spur those who had played in that match.
"There are unforgettable memories at this ground," Herath said. "It was a special win. There is Angelo Mathews' innings, Prasad's bowling, and that incredible finish. We will keep that close to our heart, and try to use that to help us win."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando