Sri Lanka v New Zealand, 1st Test, Galle, 3rd day November 19, 2012

Sri Lanka's working-class hero

Rangana Herath's talent is no where near Muttiah Muralitharan's genius, but his control and dependability has made him integral to Sri Lanka's Test attack

Rangana Herath was on the field when Muttiah Muralitharan took his 800th wicket in Galle. At mid-on most likely, or short fine leg. Perhaps no one other than him remembers. He will never be the bowler that Murali was, and he is fine with that. What he has become since that day, is Sri Lanka's unlikeliest, most unassuming star. 

On day three against New Zealand, he transformed a match that was set to be a nailbiter into a cakewalk in a single session, but he had already stilled the waters to move into position the previous evening. New Zealand had spoken of being positive against spin, particularly after a dour first innings, and Brendon McCullum endeavoured to remain true to those words when he rocked back to wallop Herath over deep midwicket for six, off the third ball Herath bowled in the innings.

Two balls later, Herath bowled short again, but this time he gave it a little more topspin and gleaned an inch more bounce from the surface. The result was a top edge, and before New Zealand could wipe out their 26-run deficit, Herath had already removed their best batsman from the first innings - one capable of battering Sri Lanka into defence, if he had continued. His spell on day three might earn him more plaudits, but it is like Herath to do the hard work ahead of time. It is also like him to respond to a blow with a shot of his own. McCullum's wicket was the uppercut that loosened New Zealand's resolve for the barrage to come, and it was the second time in the match he had dismissed the batsman after being hit for six earlier in the over.

Sri Lanka have now won four Tests since Murali retired, and Herath has a five-wicket haul in three of those matches, including in their maiden win in South Africa. The passage of play prior to Daniel Flynn's dismissal illustrated just how much Herath means to this team now. Flynn was playing Herath well, before captain and bowler colluded to change the field completely. They put seven men on the leg side, three catching, and left a 150 degree arc from slip, to mid-off, completely unguarded on the off side. That Mahela Jayawardene approved a field of such audacity, showed his faith in Herath's control, and his recognition of him as a match-winner. That Flynn did not score a single run to the off side off Herath, and was dismissed soon after, is testament to Herath's station as such.

"In terms of Sri Lankan bowlers I've seen, I would rate Rangana just after Murali definitely, purely because of the way he controls an innings," Jayawardene said after the match. "That's what we saw from Murali. Murali had various other attributes as well, but Rangana has the experience know. He knows what he is doing with the ball. He knows what the batsman is doing as well. After Murali, he is the next best thing.

"With the transition after Murali retired, we would have struggled for a few years if we didn't have Rangana. What he has done, even in South Africa to win a Test match after Murali, is something special."

Herath's path was much lonelier than Murali's and in many ways, more steep. Even now, anyone who watches Herath bowl will not believe he is a man bestowed with outrageous ability. There is a school of thought that he is the inventor of the carrom ball, but even he will admit he is hardly the best proponent of it. He certainly did not use many in this Test. Patience has been the grindstone at which he has perfected his craft.

Murali was an anomaly, and men like Suraj Randiv, who scraped only two wickets in the match while Herath reaped 11, may not have much they can learn from one so singularly different. Herath is a disciple of subtlety and guile and even youngsters like Akila Dananjaya and Tharindu Kaushal would do well to learn from him. 

"The first thing they have to learn is the patience that Rangana showed," Jayawardene said. "For ten years, he was waiting behind Murali for his opportunity, but he never gave up. He never got many opportunities, but whenever he got them he played and performed. That's what the new generation have to do as well, in terms of learning their trade. You can have the talent, but it's about delivering. The younger guys are doing that. They always come and speak to him at practices and work with him and we've got a nice little set up with the spinners' academy, where Rangana goes and helps all the younger guys."

Sri Lanka are yet to sew up the series, but they will be soaring after such a comprehensive victory, and New Zealand dejected after their collapse. Beyond the next match, a colossal test awaits. Though he has none of the talent some of Sri Lanka's batsmen command, Herath is the player most capable of sparking a win in Australia as well, and his side are beginning to see his immense worth. 
Frill free, earnest and even-headed, Herath has become Sri Lanka's working-class hero.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sri on November 21, 2012, 22:35 GMT

    So it's Australia again. I hope the Sri Lankans will have plenty of patience in the tests and not play them like a T20 match, which is what they are prone to do per se; Sanga's new found inability to play the outswinger is a huge worry, as with his string of low scores. Lets all hope that the SL's will play to their potential even if they loose the tests, otherwise us expat Sri Lankans will not be able to go to work the next day.

  • Johnathon on November 20, 2012, 18:42 GMT

    While Murali was the smiling assassin, Herath is the silent assassin. Nobody thinks of him as a threat, but this guy's stats talk for themselves. You may bring up the arguement that he will be ineffective in Australia, but for me I honestly have no idea. People said the same thing about him in South Africa and he was man of the match (took 10 wickets I believe) in their only Test Win in South Africa

  • Prashan on November 20, 2012, 16:27 GMT

    @tallgrass I fully agree with you. If you look at the squad, we have Eranga, Pradeep and Prasad as pace bowlers for the tour downunder.

  • Prashan on November 20, 2012, 16:25 GMT

    Herath has no doubt been instrumental in our 4 test wins sans Vaas and Murali. But I would give up all hopes I have for him in Australia next month. Only Adelaide will favor Herath but we wont get Adelaide for the tests. Other worry is that our pace bowling lacks depth and reality is that it is pace bowling which helps you win a test series in Australia.

  • Nival on November 20, 2012, 13:09 GMT

    @ tallgrass: 42 is his overall overseas average, dont forget herath came into his own only after murali retired and that's what wonderful about his story, and he's the one who pioneered our first test win in SA and also remember how he quite remarkably turned a game on its head against pakistan, bowling from the new ball in the morning!...lets just wait n watch before you dismiss him as a 'home player'.

  • Dimuthu on November 20, 2012, 12:41 GMT

    With SLC's horrendous planning, we will barely see Herath's skill in practice in 2013. What with only a handful of tests being played against 2nd tier teams, we are losing Herath to retirement prematurely. A real role model, I've been waiting since seeing him play in 1999 against Australia to see him flourish. Damn shame that our selectors have been absolute buffoons in the past few years and the spin department management has probably been the absolute worst of their decisions

  • Jayalath on November 20, 2012, 10:01 GMT

    guys don't get too excited. Herat is a good bowler but is more effective at home in slow turning pitches. His record overseas is not great (avg 42) and he's only picked up 16 wkts against Eng and SA from 6 away matches, 14 of which came from two tests played in spin-friendly tracks. The problem is our next real test is Australia (which everyone including the ever so forgetful selectors seem to have forgotten)- If we want foreign media to write praise about our players they need to perform on the right stage - backyard heroics is not enough. That's why we need to play more Tests overseas and play them regularly. And SLC should consider this when scheduling tours -for instance Nuwan Pradeep and Eranga (who offer seam and swing options) could have been groomed against NZ in preparation for Australia. Going downunder without a 140km/h bowler is suicide!

  • Pad on November 20, 2012, 7:38 GMT

    It does not look like Herath has a tiring action... lets hope that he can play till late 30s... we need him for some more years... hoping akila or tharindu can join him to be a formidable pair...

  • Cham on November 20, 2012, 6:54 GMT

    most deserving praise and rewards for Herath, If he get more support from SL batters(putting up big scores) he will be even more successful in grabbing more wickets. Probably the best left arm spinner in the world today(if not the best spinner overall today).

  • Dru on November 20, 2012, 6:29 GMT

    Its hard to think that Herath is the leading wicket taker in the year and for all money he looks an unthreatening old fashioned left armer. But as the article points out he has excellent control over his skills and knows what he is doing. His story is one of fairy tales when he was called in to the test side after an injury to Murali (I think). The guy was playing club cricket in Eng and was on the next flight to play the test. He did really well in that test and hasnt looked back.

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