'Taking 14 wickets in Mahela's last Test was my best'

In the days before his final Test, Rangana Herath looks back on his spectacular career that started in 1999, and explains why he's retiring.

You had originally said you were retiring at the end of the series, but you've brought it forward. Why is that?

If you take the last 12 to 18 months, I haven't played three Tests in a row because of my knee injuries and back issues. This is a three-Test series, so I thought it would be tough to play the whole thing given my fitness. So the selectors, SLC, the captain and the coach met with me and we came to this direction. I think it's the right one.

Galle has been one of your favourite venues. What are your memories here?

I played my first Test against Australia here - that's one you will never forget. If you ask for maybe my best spell overall, the time I took nine wickets in the first innings and five in the second, at the SSC in Colombo, for Mahela's last Test - that's the one that comes to mind.

It was in 2009 that you got a stable place in the team. Do you remember how you got that call up?

I was playing in a league in Staffordshire for a team called Modershall. I'd played for them for about three months when I got a call from Kumar Sangakkara, who was the captain, and he said, "Murali has been injured - how's your form?" He asked me if I could come for the Test, and without even thinking about how I would get there, I said yes. They organised everything for me, with Murali especially helping me out at the time. I came to Colombo and then played Pakistan in Galle.

You were 31 at the time - did you think it would be your last chance at the top level?

I had a lot of experience by the time I got this chance, because I'd played professionally for about 10 years before that. The knowledge that I had really helped me. But if I hadn't played well in that game, it's possible that it could have been my last Test. As I was on the way, though, I thought that with the maturity I had in my game, having played club and A team cricket for so long, that I should be able to do well against Pakistan. I had that belief.

You've taken more five-wicket hauls in the fourth innings than any other bowler - including Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne. What's enabled you to do that?

The first thing we should look at is where I've got those five-wicket hauls - a lot of them have been in Sri Lanka where it turns. Also pitches turn the most in the fourth innings, and I feel my strength is bowling line and length for long spells. You get a lot of support from the surface when you do that. Those are the reasons for that record, I think.

Back when you were just establishing yourself in the side, did you ever dream you'd finish as the most successful left-armer ever?

Back then I didn't have a big plan like that. But when you play for a long time, you start ticking off milestones - 100 wickets, 200 wickets. Then you learn how to use your experience and to win matches.

Is that record one you hold dear?

Yes. Among left-arm bowlers I was the first spinner to take 400 wickets, and then I became the best left-armer. It's a great achievement, but it's not one you can achieve by yourself. I have to thank my team-mates, coaches, support staff and the people around me. They are the reason I was able to achieve it.

You've had injuries for a long time - how did you extend your career this far?

That's the advantage that spinners have. You can play until your 40. The most important thing is to maintain your fitness. So I'm really grateful to all the physios and trainers, whom I've done a lot of work with. With their support and my own desire and sacrifice, I was able to play until I am 40.

Any regrets?

Not really. If you take one-day cricket, we've come to World Cup finals and lost. Apart from that there are no regrets in my cricket life. Cricket has given me a lot.

Do you feel you're leaving the team in a good place? Who are the bowlers who can help replace you?

Right now Akila Dananjaya and Dilruwan Perera are playing. In addition to them left-armers Malinda Pushpakumara and Lakshan Sandakan are there. They are all good bowlers, but what is important is to give them opportunities. We need to create the right environment for them to perform well. I'm sure they will get those opportunities, and that they will do well.

What are your plans after retirement?

I've been working for the Sampath Bank since 2000. I think after I've stopped playing, I'll keep working there.