Rangana Herath, who led Sri Lanka to a 2-0 sweep of Zimbabwe in his first series as captain, has said that the team's recent run in Test cricket bodes well for the South Africa tour, which starts with the Boxing Day Test in Port Elizabeth. Sri Lanka's 257-run victory in Harare in the second Test was their fifth successive win - they swept Australia 3-0 at home prior to this series - to equal their second-longest winning streak in Tests.
"If you take the Australian series, the 3-0 win gave us a lot of confidence for the Zimbabwe tour," Herath said on Saturday. "Now that we have beaten Zimbabwe and won five Tests in a row, I am sure that confidence will help us for the South African tour. I am 100 percent certain about the confidence of our players that they will do well in South Africa."
Herath himself led the way in Zimbabwe, taking 19 wickets in two matches at an average of just over 15. During his 8 for 63 in the second Test in Harare, Herath became only the third bowler, after Muttiah Muralitharan and Dale Steyn, to complete a five-for against all nine other Test nations.
"I would say it was a kind of a high achievement," Herath said. "I didn't know that I was the third player to achieve that feat, but I am really happy with that performance because I haven't had a five-wicket haul against Zimbabwe, and it was the first time I played against them. I am really happy to join that club with Murali and Steyn."
Herath, who stood in as captain in the absence of Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal, said he relished the experience. "I enjoyed every single moment of it and I did really enjoy the captaincy. I had played under a lot of captains like Sanath (Jayasuriya), Mahela (Jayawardene), Sanga (Kumar Sangakkara), (Tillakaratne) Dilshan, Hashan (Tillakeratne) and Angelo (Mathews), and gained experience from them. That experience helped me a lot coupled with the little bit I had captaining Moors SC to the Premier league title."
Herath acknowledged the contributions of several players, including the returning Upul Tharanga, for making his job easier. Opener Dimuth Karunaratne hit form with 280 runs in four innings, including a century and two fifties. Tharanga held the middle order together and brought up his second Test hundred last week, nearly 11 years after his first. Fringe players like batsman Dhananjaya de Silva and seam-bowling allrounder Asela Gunaratne also impressed.
"It was easier to captain when every single player was performing and contributing a lot to the team," Herath said. "I must thank the players and the supporting staff for our success in the series.
"If you take individually, Kusal Perera, Kaushal Silva, Dhanajaya (de Silva), Asela Gunaratne, Dimuth Karunaratne performed; every single player contributed in every single game. Players like Upul Tharanga, who came to Test cricket after a long time, and Asela, who played his first at the age of 30, I saw some difference in him he played a matured innings in both Tests."
On the bowling front, Herath lauded seamer Suranga Lakmal, who found swing with the new ball and reverse-swing with the old one on docile surfaces, and offspinner Dilruwan Perera who complemented him.
"Of the bowlers, most credit should go to Suranga Lakmal because on those flat tracks, it's not easy to bowl, but he bowled his heart out," he said. "Even Lahiru Gamage, he gave the kind of confidence to the team and he looks a good prospect for Sri Lanka. Dilruwan (Perera) and myself, every single player contributed in some way, that's why we won the two Tests."
Herath, 38, said he has not set any long-term plans, and instead looked to "take it series by series". "I have gained a lot of confidence in the last two series I played, taking 28 wickets against Australia and 19 against Zimbabwe," he said. "I am always planning to take it series by series and try to do my best each time. It's a much easier target than planning for six to twelve months. As long as I am contributing 100 percent, it's easier to continue playing for the team."