Meticulous Herath crafts another success story
Luck. Batman villain Two Face makes his own. Poet Emily Dickinson believed it synonymous with toil. Playwright Tennessee Williams thought luck came from simply believing you're lucky.
Luck was what Rangana Herath put his five-wicket haul down to, on a Premadasa surface that prompted both teams to field three seamers and spurred Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews to bowl first. "We also thought that the wicket will be good for the seamers," Herath said, "but at the end of the day, we could see that the Bangladesh batsmen batted well against them. Shaminda Eranga, Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Kulasekara bowled well, but I was lucky that I got the wickets."
Sadly, Herath failed to lay out his own philosophy on luck, and in the absence of a personal definition, any one of the above might explain Herath's deeds nicely. Only, it was evident that good fortune had very little to do with the way he carried Sri Lanka to a dominant position at the end of the first day.
There was modest turn in the third session - more already than on the last day in Galle - but the assistance was hardly extravagant enough to do Herath's work for him. Each over was a trap delicately being placed in position. As unassuming as his cricket is, Herath has become one of the most watchable purveyors of his art, but only if you're watching closely - giving it your full attention, as the batsman must.
This one is tossed up from wide of the stumps. That one pushed through straight. Another darted in on the toes. One more, on off stump, flighted, dipping , spitting. What is Herath doing, you wonder. But every ball is another stroke of the brush, and only at the end does the picture become clear. When it does, you wonder why you hadn't seen it all along. Each over means something, however humdrum on the surface.
His spell to remove Mahmudullah was largely populated with flighted deliveries, pitched on off stump, turning away. Still new at the crease, the batsman refused to be enticed into a loose drive, coming forward to smother the spin safely, or staying back to defend the turning ball from the crease. But having laid down the bait, Herath soon sprung the trap - a full delivery, seemingly overpitched, and close enough to the stumps so the batsman did not have to drive dangerously away from the body. Spotting that line and length, Mahmudullah stepped forward to drill the ball down the ground.
Only, this was not like all the other balls Herath had tossed up to Mahmudullah. This was quicker, and spun harder. It did not float as far as the batsman expected, and when it pitched, it gripped, despite its speed. The result was a thick edge that flew too quickly for the wicketkeeper, but took a deflection off his pads for Angelo Mathews to hold on to, running sideways from slip. Sri Lanka may have had some luck after the ball took the edge, but fortune cannot take the credit for the edge itself. Herath had laid a 16-ball foundation to claim that wicket.
Herath tuned his strategy to suit the batsman too. Sohag Gazi was happy to attack Herath, hitting two fours and 20 of his 32 runs off him, but Herath was happy to continue throwing it up, believing he'd have the better of Gazi's risky game in the end. Eventually, the batsman danced down the pitch and was beaten by one that dipped and gripped past the blade.
Mushfiqur Rahim, meanwhile, was tentative against the quick slider. Twice in the 53rd over, he was pinned on the crease by the shorter quicker one, and Herath allowed him his discomfort for a few more deliveries. In the next over, another fast ball, but this one slightly fuller, caught Mushfiqur on the crease again, and he was beaten by the turn he should have come forward to negate. He had his off stump rattled instead.
Herath suggested he had hoped to dismiss Mushfiqur in that fashion all along: "After the Galle Test we had a long chat on how we're going to bowl at Bangladesh, especially to Mohammad Ashraful and Mushfiqur Rahim. I think we carried out our plans up to 80 to 90%."
Perhaps among Herath's wickets, only the dismissal of Mominul Haque was truly lucky. The batsman left the field shaking his head, and replays did not conclusively reveal an edge. But when a bowler plots so meticulously to bring about an opponent's demise, it is difficult to begrudge him the ones that come easy.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here