Sri Lanka v Bangladesh, 2nd Test, Colombo, 3rd day March 18, 2013

What will Sri Lanka do without Herath?

After Murali's retirement, the responsibility to win Tests has again fallen on the shoulders of a lone spinner
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Before Rangana Herath's 19th over of the day, Sri Lanka were drifting towards trouble. The pitch had begun to bite, and Bangladesh were edging ahead in the third innings with not much fear, for not much menace defied them.

In two brutal balls, Herath reeled in the upper hand for his side again. Jahurul Islam, having ground a gutsy 48, stepped down the track to lay down his terms for Herath's spell, but a dipping Herath ripper wouldn't have it. Chandimal collected and stumped the batsman well out of his crease. Mahmudullah arrived, received a flatter one that gripped and felled off stump, and was back in the dressing room within two minutes. Later in his spell, Mominul Haque was dropped at mid-on, and Mushfiqur Rahim shelled at slip. Called in to make a breakthrough, Herath served up Bangladesh's innings on a plate. The chance to shut the visitors out may have been missed, but Sri Lanka will sleep easier with only six more to get on day four.

That spell, though, in its impact, raises a series of worrying questions. What if Herath was not playing? What if he had a bad Test? He took five wickets on the first day, and now has three of four on the third. Would Bangladesh have made 100 more in their first dig? 150 maybe? Probably. Would they be cruising towards a big lead in the second innings, as the pitch disintegrates? Also likely. Are Sri Lanka, in their home conditions, a worse Test team than Bangladesh, save for Herath?

He has effectively assumed Muttiah Muralitharan's mantle, only his body was shaped in a mortal's mould, and he will perhaps never be a great, given he is on the brink of 35. Without Murali, Sri Lanka have won 11 Tests and lost 39. With him, they triumphed 54 times and were beaten in 41. Herath, who has taken five wicket-hauls in three of the four victories since Murali's retirement, has not only inherited Murali's responsibility, but his team-mate's frailties as well. The team has slipped from one one-man-show to another.

At present, Herath is at once sledgehammer and workhorse. When his side grows desperate for a breakthrough, Sri Lanka look to him. When an opponent is mowing bowlers down, Herath must be on hand to tamp the blaze. A long, tight spell, a sneaky wicket before day's end, new ball, old ball, greentop, dustbowl, Herath is the man. The only man. How tiring it must be, though his cricket never seems careworn.

On Sri Lanka's recent walloping in Australia, not only did the other bowlers fail to contribute with notable hauls, they undid Herath's fine work at one end with waywardness at the other. Worse, they spilled several chances that he created, as they have done again in Colombo. Besting Test batsmen is not a cakewalk for Herath as it often was for Murali. He grafts for wickets - spends eons setting them up. A dropped chance often means that a lengthy process must begin again. How cruel, for a man who gives far beyond his own ability in the field.

There were encouraging patches for Herath's support crew on day three, however. Shaminda Eranga had been one of those whose indiscipline set Sri Lanka back in Australia, but showed commitment to line, length and pace throughout his spells at the Premadasa, and removed Tamim Iqbal. Eranga still lacks the movement, in the air and off the pitch, to be a major Test threat, but Sri Lanka's pace attack must walk before it can run, and control at least, is a step on that journey.

"Eranga's developing quite well," Kumar Sangakkara said after stumps. "It's just a case of day-in-day-out that you have a specific plan to work towards in practice and even in a match. Even if you take the most successful bowlers, not a lot of them are extraordinary bowlers. You've had a few like Murali who was a freakish X-factor, or you had Shane Warne, who was probably one of the unique bowlers that you get very rarely. But if you take the rest of the fast bowlers - Glenn McGrath, Wasim Akram, all of them had one thing in common. They were very accurate and they managed to put the ball in the right place. Other than that there was no magic in it.

"For Eranga and all other fast bowlers, it's just a case of understanding that and putting that ball consistently in a place that challenges batsmen and keeps making him play. You can't try and bowl magic balls, you can't try and get batsmen out. It's just a case of bowling to a plan and if there's swing, letting the ball swing and if there's seam, letting the ball seam. Your job is to just hit that one spot."

After his five-wickets on day one, Herath said he hoped to have 50 wickets in Galle before he retired. He is only two short, but Sri Lanka's next home Test there is not until 2015, when Herath will be 37. If he waits that long to call it a day, he may just buy his team-mates enough time to learn to hunt as a pack, and build, with heart, upon each other's efforts. But, maybe not. Maybe another must emerge, to tread the lonely path Herath has trekked so tirelessly.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • POSTED BY satishchandar on | March 19, 2013, 3:17 GMT

    Good article. It has been going thru my mind for sometime. SL did find a couple of good batsmen in Thirimanne and Chandimal to atleast cover up when the big three in Dilshan, Mahela and Sanga leaves. If Mathews can step it up with bat a bit more, it will be a formidable batting lineup which can carry the mantle forward. SL are already a bit down in pace department post Vaas, Malinga era. Herath was a guy who did a great job even when Murali was still around and he is the prime spinner for SL. With Senanayake doing good and Akila being a mystery spinner, ti won't be entirely dark for SL post Herath. But they might feel a bit stuttering for sometime. Mystery spinner is great for a year ro so. But after that, your stock ball alone will save the career. Mendis never had a stock ball. Ashwin is now using the stock delivery almost 99% and uses the carrom ball very seldom. Even Herath can bowl carrom ball but he uses only when he wants - very rarely. Learn it youngsters.

  • POSTED BY Sachit1979 on | March 18, 2013, 15:56 GMT

    Rangan Herath undoubtedly a world class bowler and able replacement of legend Muralitharan. Ajantha Mendis and Suraj Randiv got enough chances but could not really make most of those. Now its high time for Sri Lankan selectors to give more opportunities to youngsters like Dananjaya, Senanayake, Pathirana and Tharindu Kaushal to pick the successor of Herath before he signs off. But I believe Herath still has good 2 years of Cricket left in him.

  • POSTED BY Sinhaya on | March 19, 2013, 16:04 GMT

    We should have played Sachithra Senanayake instead of useless passenger Suranga Lakmal. If we played an additional spinner in the 3rd test in Sydney, we would have seen a different result. We must remember that spin bowing has been and will forever be our strength and not pace bowling. Playing 3 fast bowlers is useless. Angelo can be our 3rd pace bowler if needed.

  • POSTED BY on | March 19, 2013, 11:37 GMT

    Murali had the support of Vaas, Herath and Malinga ... Herath has no support

  • POSTED BY PadMarley on | March 19, 2013, 11:15 GMT

    Honestly speaking, I'm not a big fan of mystery spinners. They come and go, and loose the mystery. Mystery works only when a batsman try to attack you or he is under runs/time pressure. In a test game, where time permits you to settle and play, mystery doesn't mean much against good test batsmen. Herath is the greatest example of what test bowling should be for an orthodox left arm leggie. It is a mindset to be mastered, it is strategy to be mastered, it is accuracy to be mastered, and it is the ability to read a situation to be mastered. Test cricket is no Mystery!!

  • POSTED BY kingcobra85 on | March 19, 2013, 11:11 GMT

    what will Srilanka do even with Herath against decent teams

  • POSTED BY Master_Mihil on | March 19, 2013, 7:39 GMT

    Haven't anyone learnt anything from the past. Cricket will always find a way. Bradman, Murali, Lara, Sobers have long retired. But cricket is still young.

  • POSTED BY KK37male on | March 19, 2013, 7:25 GMT

    They'll do the same as what they have been doing without Murali.

  • POSTED BY Fast_Track_Bully on | March 19, 2013, 5:58 GMT

    Nothing will happen. BD will not bother the SL till 5th day. Even part timers can bowl them out twice in a test match. They do not have good techniques for test batsmen.

  • POSTED BY on | March 19, 2013, 5:57 GMT

    If SL are struggling against Bangladesh at home like this, so dependent on few players like Sangakarra (for batting) and Herath (for bowling), then I am sure teams like India, Pakistan and even Australia will win a series in SL comfortably. Of course no need to mention England and South Africa.

  • POSTED BY satishchandar on | March 19, 2013, 3:17 GMT

    Good article. It has been going thru my mind for sometime. SL did find a couple of good batsmen in Thirimanne and Chandimal to atleast cover up when the big three in Dilshan, Mahela and Sanga leaves. If Mathews can step it up with bat a bit more, it will be a formidable batting lineup which can carry the mantle forward. SL are already a bit down in pace department post Vaas, Malinga era. Herath was a guy who did a great job even when Murali was still around and he is the prime spinner for SL. With Senanayake doing good and Akila being a mystery spinner, ti won't be entirely dark for SL post Herath. But they might feel a bit stuttering for sometime. Mystery spinner is great for a year ro so. But after that, your stock ball alone will save the career. Mendis never had a stock ball. Ashwin is now using the stock delivery almost 99% and uses the carrom ball very seldom. Even Herath can bowl carrom ball but he uses only when he wants - very rarely. Learn it youngsters.

  • POSTED BY Sachit1979 on | March 18, 2013, 15:56 GMT

    Rangan Herath undoubtedly a world class bowler and able replacement of legend Muralitharan. Ajantha Mendis and Suraj Randiv got enough chances but could not really make most of those. Now its high time for Sri Lankan selectors to give more opportunities to youngsters like Dananjaya, Senanayake, Pathirana and Tharindu Kaushal to pick the successor of Herath before he signs off. But I believe Herath still has good 2 years of Cricket left in him.

  • POSTED BY Sinhaya on | March 19, 2013, 16:04 GMT

    We should have played Sachithra Senanayake instead of useless passenger Suranga Lakmal. If we played an additional spinner in the 3rd test in Sydney, we would have seen a different result. We must remember that spin bowing has been and will forever be our strength and not pace bowling. Playing 3 fast bowlers is useless. Angelo can be our 3rd pace bowler if needed.

  • POSTED BY on | March 19, 2013, 11:37 GMT

    Murali had the support of Vaas, Herath and Malinga ... Herath has no support

  • POSTED BY PadMarley on | March 19, 2013, 11:15 GMT

    Honestly speaking, I'm not a big fan of mystery spinners. They come and go, and loose the mystery. Mystery works only when a batsman try to attack you or he is under runs/time pressure. In a test game, where time permits you to settle and play, mystery doesn't mean much against good test batsmen. Herath is the greatest example of what test bowling should be for an orthodox left arm leggie. It is a mindset to be mastered, it is strategy to be mastered, it is accuracy to be mastered, and it is the ability to read a situation to be mastered. Test cricket is no Mystery!!

  • POSTED BY kingcobra85 on | March 19, 2013, 11:11 GMT

    what will Srilanka do even with Herath against decent teams

  • POSTED BY Master_Mihil on | March 19, 2013, 7:39 GMT

    Haven't anyone learnt anything from the past. Cricket will always find a way. Bradman, Murali, Lara, Sobers have long retired. But cricket is still young.

  • POSTED BY KK37male on | March 19, 2013, 7:25 GMT

    They'll do the same as what they have been doing without Murali.

  • POSTED BY Fast_Track_Bully on | March 19, 2013, 5:58 GMT

    Nothing will happen. BD will not bother the SL till 5th day. Even part timers can bowl them out twice in a test match. They do not have good techniques for test batsmen.

  • POSTED BY on | March 19, 2013, 5:57 GMT

    If SL are struggling against Bangladesh at home like this, so dependent on few players like Sangakarra (for batting) and Herath (for bowling), then I am sure teams like India, Pakistan and even Australia will win a series in SL comfortably. Of course no need to mention England and South Africa.

  • POSTED BY hystericalnaive on | March 19, 2013, 5:51 GMT

    I think , SL has very good seam attack. WIth Eranga and Lakmal and Kulasekhara. They have very good attack.

  • POSTED BY on | March 19, 2013, 3:47 GMT

    @CricketMan: You did not mention BD as a good spiners production house. However, they have some quality spinners like Sakib, Razzak, Gazi too.

  • POSTED BY Jay.Raj on | March 19, 2013, 3:31 GMT

    As many people pointed out, why is Sachithra Senanayake not given a chance? He did really well against Australia in Australia and more than than he is a SMART bowler who has a lot of first class experience. Please give him a chance. Randiv is too easy to pick. Even IPL franchises recognized his talent.

  • POSTED BY Rafelgibt on | March 19, 2013, 2:26 GMT

    Its well in SL and subcontinent but SL would definitely struggle when the play against AUS,NZ,ENG,SA at their own field as spin is not the main option over there and batsmen have to cope the extra bounce and swing of the pitch.Looking like Dilshan,Sanga,Mahela are the only options for them but how long as age is catching up for all of them???

  • POSTED BY nutral on | March 19, 2013, 2:21 GMT

    Baseball-Sucks is 200% correct. It's good that new selection committee realized this truth. If you are a spinner, technically speaking, you need to spin the ball.

  • POSTED BY ARad on | March 19, 2013, 1:15 GMT

    No team can succeed in Tests without at least a couple of world class bowlers because if you can't take 20 wickets, you can't win. Period. OTOH, limited over games are not primarily about taking wickets but they are about reducing your team from scoring a lot of runs during your spell (at least from the POV of bowlers.) In certain countries and regions, the glamour of cricket is all about batting and, naturally, they only do well in ODIs. India, for example, couldn't have been #1 in Test rankings if not for Kumble & Zaheer (and, maybe, Bhaji) during the few years they shined together. Besides, when SLC is much more worried about correcting their budgetary mistakes by arranging more ODI tours or T20 leagues, what message does it send to young cricketers? I hope I am wrong and talented bowlers will flourish despite SLC's administrative mishaps.

  • POSTED BY on | March 19, 2013, 0:52 GMT

    I am interested to see CricInfo have closed all match comments within 14 hours of close of play? Why?

    I am an Irish fan (and yes I am going to ask for Irish test cricket) but I support Bangladesh in every game they play (except against Ireland) - there is too much rubbish posted on Ire V Bang ... we dont want to demean them - we want to BE them!

    And Irish cricket has a great series of tours this year so we can test and hopefully prove our worth but in the last few years we have had trouble getting games and ONLY Bangladesh came with a full team for a couple of months - we were very grateful and we dont forget ....we'll continue cheering boys in shamrock green and Bang green too .... good luck to you!

  • POSTED BY KingOwl on | March 19, 2013, 0:06 GMT

    Let's not forget. SL is a small country. Tiny when compared to our neighbours. So, while the nation has a lot of talent relative to the size of the population, it is not easy in absolute terms to develop world class spinners. How many countries in the world have two world class spinners? None, I would say. Unless you take Monty and Swanne. When it comes to fast bowling, it is mostly to do with the size and physique of the people. How many 6ft+, broad shouldered males with strong legs are there in SL? Now, one could say that you don't have to be that, to be a good fast bowler. But, let's not be in denial. It helps, it helps a lot! In the past, the question was asked, what if Murali was not there. Now we are asking what if Herath wasn't there. Well, there will be someone else!

  • POSTED BY on | March 18, 2013, 21:13 GMT

    well, what's interesting is you could say the same about their batting regarding sangakkara. Their batsmen, especially the newer players, have not done any better than bangladesh's, chandimal's hit some good scores but they've not been particularly fluent and you wouldn't say he's far out ahead of the better bangladeshi players.

  • POSTED BY Lakpj on | March 18, 2013, 21:06 GMT

    forget about mendis he is of no use in tests, in ODIs and T20s when batsmen score runs he is handy. but in tests he is not the best option. SL should look on T Kaushal and Dhananjaya in the long run.

  • POSTED BY Baseball-Sucks on | March 18, 2013, 19:53 GMT

    I'm not sure if we can rely on Mendis or Akila in Test cricket. Its been proven again n again that mystery spinners don't last long. Its just a matter of time their mysteries are discovered. And none of 'em can't turn the ball unless its a dustbowl. It would be silly to expect a Magician like Murali to come along and save us from all our troubles. We just need more conventional spinners (who can turn the ball on any surface ) with some variations . And Its gotta be someone who is patient n has good work ethics like Herath.

  • POSTED BY TurningSquare on | March 18, 2013, 19:08 GMT

    As a lover and follower of spin bowling it has to be Akila Dananjaya, this kid is an incredible talent and needs to be playing all formats, don't let him go to waste Sri Lanka.

  • POSTED BY faizan_feroz on | March 18, 2013, 18:14 GMT

    its a great article , its sad to see sl relying on just one bowler to take wickets , yet one thing is expected that they will produce someone who myt have some impression on the team but filling in the boots of herath is difficult let alone murali , i still believe randiv can be that factor , cmon sl u can show the world u still got the attitude of the champions within u :)

  • POSTED BY Prabhash1985 on | March 18, 2013, 16:55 GMT

    Anyone remember Niroshan Bandarathilaka? He used to be a clever bowler, but ruined his career.

  • POSTED BY Sinhaya on | March 18, 2013, 16:42 GMT

    Why on earth could n't Sachithra Senanayake be chosen? Seriously why are we playing useless Lakmal?? We must always play 2 specialist spinners in test matches as spin bowling is our strength. Sachithra has taken truck loads of wickets in the domestic games and he is in prime form.

  • POSTED BY SLMaster on | March 18, 2013, 16:38 GMT

    There are few youngters in the group with talent. Give Ajantha more opportunities and among others. SL should not leave others out because Hearth is performing well; as it happened to Hearath when Murali was playing.

  • POSTED BY Prabhash1985 on | March 18, 2013, 16:34 GMT

    I must say the best quality I see in Rangey boy is that he is one of the most humble people in cricket like Dravid.

  • POSTED BY Prabhash1985 on | March 18, 2013, 16:30 GMT

    Herath could have been even threatening if Murali was not in the squad. Herath couldn't join the team as there was enough spin attack from Murali, which was of course a gifted, but the bowler u see today could have been better with more experience in international level. When problems arise, they arise with solutions. Sri Lanka will have more spinners like Akila. Like trees, everything has a grace period and a rise period. Like a forest, big trees fall, allowing small plants to grow up to be giants. That's what Murali did before his time, for Range boy, and Akila will be Rangana's follower.

  • POSTED BY palla.avinash on | March 18, 2013, 16:28 GMT

    sachithra senanayake can be best spinner and wicket taker after herath for strange reasons sri lanka is not giving him enough opportunities they should play him.

  • POSTED BY CricketMaan on | March 18, 2013, 16:24 GMT

    Its amazing isnt it!! Asian teams including SL, Pak and India at one time produced Test quality spinners like run of the mill, but these days all are heading more or less in same direction. Ajmal is pulling Pak, Herath is doing for SL, In India Ashwin and Ohja are still untested overseas!! Its a skill that is almost vanishing! A lot to do with the obsession with batting, flat pitches? Pak still produces fast bowlers but India and Lanka are not able to do so consistently. For a vast nation, India has only one bowler identified to bowl 140+ in Tests and he is injured. In Lanka there was the great Vass and freakish Malinga, what happened after them? We still produce great batters and will do so, they may even succeed overseas, but what about bowlers..spin, fast, seam..the old saying 'bowlers win Test matches' is and will be always true. If Asia still wants to play Tests, then they better find bowlers to play Tests!!

  • POSTED BY CricketMaan on | March 18, 2013, 16:16 GMT

    Before anyone starts gunning down Kumar for his comments on Glenn and Wasim, the way i read is that he says that fast bowlign does not need magic, rather discipline over long periods of time, qualities like line, lenght and consistency combined with supreme fitness must do the trick. In saying that he has praised the longetivity and success of Glenn and Wasim and not putting them down. I hope some of you agree with me.

  • POSTED BY Jadejafan on | March 18, 2013, 16:03 GMT

    Sri Lanka Cricket is going downhill what a pity :)

  • POSTED BY cricket_slcsupport on | March 18, 2013, 15:52 GMT

    Sri Lanka is down the drain. Hope there are no matches with India, I'm sure we will get a good thrashing

  • POSTED BY cricket_slcsupport on | March 18, 2013, 15:52 GMT

    Sri Lanka is down the drain. Hope there are no matches with India, I'm sure we will get a good thrashing

  • POSTED BY Jadejafan on | March 18, 2013, 16:03 GMT

    Sri Lanka Cricket is going downhill what a pity :)

  • POSTED BY CricketMaan on | March 18, 2013, 16:16 GMT

    Before anyone starts gunning down Kumar for his comments on Glenn and Wasim, the way i read is that he says that fast bowlign does not need magic, rather discipline over long periods of time, qualities like line, lenght and consistency combined with supreme fitness must do the trick. In saying that he has praised the longetivity and success of Glenn and Wasim and not putting them down. I hope some of you agree with me.

  • POSTED BY CricketMaan on | March 18, 2013, 16:24 GMT

    Its amazing isnt it!! Asian teams including SL, Pak and India at one time produced Test quality spinners like run of the mill, but these days all are heading more or less in same direction. Ajmal is pulling Pak, Herath is doing for SL, In India Ashwin and Ohja are still untested overseas!! Its a skill that is almost vanishing! A lot to do with the obsession with batting, flat pitches? Pak still produces fast bowlers but India and Lanka are not able to do so consistently. For a vast nation, India has only one bowler identified to bowl 140+ in Tests and he is injured. In Lanka there was the great Vass and freakish Malinga, what happened after them? We still produce great batters and will do so, they may even succeed overseas, but what about bowlers..spin, fast, seam..the old saying 'bowlers win Test matches' is and will be always true. If Asia still wants to play Tests, then they better find bowlers to play Tests!!

  • POSTED BY palla.avinash on | March 18, 2013, 16:28 GMT

    sachithra senanayake can be best spinner and wicket taker after herath for strange reasons sri lanka is not giving him enough opportunities they should play him.

  • POSTED BY Prabhash1985 on | March 18, 2013, 16:30 GMT

    Herath could have been even threatening if Murali was not in the squad. Herath couldn't join the team as there was enough spin attack from Murali, which was of course a gifted, but the bowler u see today could have been better with more experience in international level. When problems arise, they arise with solutions. Sri Lanka will have more spinners like Akila. Like trees, everything has a grace period and a rise period. Like a forest, big trees fall, allowing small plants to grow up to be giants. That's what Murali did before his time, for Range boy, and Akila will be Rangana's follower.

  • POSTED BY Prabhash1985 on | March 18, 2013, 16:34 GMT

    I must say the best quality I see in Rangey boy is that he is one of the most humble people in cricket like Dravid.

  • POSTED BY SLMaster on | March 18, 2013, 16:38 GMT

    There are few youngters in the group with talent. Give Ajantha more opportunities and among others. SL should not leave others out because Hearth is performing well; as it happened to Hearath when Murali was playing.

  • POSTED BY Sinhaya on | March 18, 2013, 16:42 GMT

    Why on earth could n't Sachithra Senanayake be chosen? Seriously why are we playing useless Lakmal?? We must always play 2 specialist spinners in test matches as spin bowling is our strength. Sachithra has taken truck loads of wickets in the domestic games and he is in prime form.

  • POSTED BY Prabhash1985 on | March 18, 2013, 16:55 GMT

    Anyone remember Niroshan Bandarathilaka? He used to be a clever bowler, but ruined his career.