World Cup 2015 February 12, 2015

Herath stresses accuracy for spinners

Rangana Herath was Sri Lanka's most economical spinner in the ODI series against New Zealand recently © AFP

Sri Lanka have established themselves as an excellent tournament team over the last seven years reaching the final of two World Cups and three World T20s since 2007, but they have relied heavily on the menace of their spin bowling in those campaigns. Muttiah Muralitharan was the team's spearhead until the 2011 World Cup, while Ajantha Mendis' mystery spin laid regular waste to batting orders, particularly in turning conditions.

But as Sri Lanka prepare to open their 2015 campaign without either of these bowlers in the squad, the team's premier spinner Rangana Herath believes it is precision that will bring spinners success in New Zealand and Australia, rather than mystery or extravagant turn.

"I don't think spinners are reduced to just keeping the runs down here," he said. "There will be some situations where you are chasing wickets as well. Sometimes you have to have faith in the fact that if you put enough balls in the right place, the pitch might do something unexpected and get you a wicket.

"Because mystery spinners like Sunil Narine and Saeed Ajmal aren't here, you have a lot of orthodox spinners at the World Cup. There is a big challenge for them, because of the rule that only allows four men outside the circle. That really puts a price on accuracy, and it's the accurate bowlers who will do well, I think."

Herath has been in New Zealand since the beginning of January, playing in the Wellington Test and three ODIs. He alone among Sri Lanka's spinners was consistently economical in the ODI series, going at 4.13 an over, while Sachithra Senanayake and Jeevan Mendis had economy rates of more than 5.5.

"When you play somewhere like Sri Lanka, it's tough for the batsman to hit to the gap that is created by the extra fielder coming into the circle, because the batsman has turn to contend with. But here, it becomes very easy for the batsman to find that big gap.

"The length is what you need to change when you bowl here. Because the ball doesn't spin much off the surface, it helps to pitch it up. Otherwise it can be easy for batsmen to drive you. The margin of error is very small."

Sri Lanka have encountered strong winds in many of their matches in New Zealand, with matches scheduled at the routinely windswept Hagley Oval in Christchurch and the University Oval in Dunedin, and will likely contend with gusts in the coming games as well. Herath said the know-how Sri Lanka had accrued during their time in the country had helped in formulating strategies to suit the unique conditions.

"As a spinner, you also have to bowl into the wind a lot here, because when your team settles on its combination, you usually have three main quicks and a spinner. The quicks then get the chance to bowl with the wind, and the spinner has to do a role against it. When you do that, the lengths and pace variations become even more important. Varying the pace can actually be big here, and can get you wickets."

Sri Lanka's bowling unit has been noticeably off colour in New Zealand as they regularly failed to shut down the opposition middle order, and also leaked runs at the death. But in the likes of Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara, Senanayake and Herath himself, Sri Lanka have the same attack that was instrumental in winning a World T20 less than a year ago, and Herath said the quality of those bowlers would eventually shine through.

"We've had injuries in the team. Lasith has been out for a few months. Suranga Lakmal was injured twice just recently, and Kule is coming back after missing a series. But I don't think that we have any major weaknesses apart from that. We're all experienced bowlers. We have a good combination and we've been bowling together for a long time. We've put the losses behind us and taken confidence from that last one-dayer against New Zealand, which we won."

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando