New Zealand v Sri Lanka, World T20, Group 1, Chittagong March 31, 2014

More to Herath than meets the eye

With one of the great T20 spells, Rangana Herath ensured Sri Lanka's hopes for that elusive World T20 title would not wither just yet

Mystery has ruled spin bowling in the Twenty20 age. Short-format slow bowlers are no longer measured by how far they can spin the ball, but in how many directions. As the Sunil Narines and Saeed Ajmals of the world leave batsmen groping open-mouthed in their wake, the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin wonder if they are not being too square. Orthodoxy still works, but this new stuff is dynamite.

To label Rangana Herath a throwback to cricket's black-and-white days would be glib. He was, after all, the modern progenitor of the carrom ball, even if his prototype version of the delivery would never compete with the sleek new models. There is, of course, a charming devotion to tradition in Herath's method; he is a zealous disciple of flight, a long-time servant of dip and spin. But to say there is more to Herath than meets the eye would not just be an ironic comment on his figure. The enigma of his success is as emphatic as the unknowns that shroud any doosra or flipper.

As Herath slammed the opposition top order into the turf in Chittagong, New Zealand's batsmen committed to more wrong lines than a drunk at a karaoke bar. The pitch took more turn than it had all tournament, but it was hardly spitting square. Slow bowlers would almost certainly have had more value for their revs up north in Mirpur, yet, there New Zealand's batsmen were, feeling for the ball, prodding like they could not pick the man who only spun it in one direction all night.

After the match, Herath was telling television presenters there was nothing more to his haul than "bowled the ball in the right place". It is the reply he always gives, but 217 Test wickets in, does anybody still believe it? Five wickets for three runs are not figures befitting a bowler who simply put the ball on a length. Positive batsmen, drenched in form, do not stall and scatter at the sight of such uninspiring diligence.

So what gives? In Tests, Herath's prey is lured gently. He bowls one from out wide, another in front of the stumps, flighting the first, darting the second, adding threads as he goes, before the batsman is strung up, suddenly, dead in the web. He cannot build an insidious narrative in four T20 overs, but in Chittagong, he had condensed that mode of attack, and therein found the means to make fools of New Zealand's two most experienced batsmen.

He flighted one up to Brendon McCullum's off stump to show him the appreciable turn first, then angled a slower one on the pads. McCullum dared not hit against the spin so early, especially if Herath had ripped it in. Another flighted, turning ball on off stump, then a dart - the first one - on the pads. The ensuing appeal was correctly turned down, but having delivered four dot balls now, Herath knew McCullum's next move long before the batsman made it. He floated one up wide of the stumps, as McCullum charged out. The ball dived and turned to beat the blade.

Ross Taylor, arguably the better player of spin, was outmanoeuvred even more forcefully. From the first two balls, Herath determined Taylor could not pick which one would turn and which would slide on, so he alternated between them, raising two appeals in the first four balls, before nailing him with the fifth. Herath was a step ahead as he beat both batsmen, first in the mind, then off the surface. That he is accurate and artful is plain, but as batsmen trudge off, they know he is good, but few understand exactly why or how. New Zealand's top order have known the feeling before.

"In the past Rangana aiya had dismissed their top order batsmen," Lasith Malinga said after the match. "Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor struggle against him. I had hoped to get him into the attack as soon as possible. He was successful and my decision was too."

Malinga may simply have been committing to the ruse with that statement, for although he is the captain on the team sheet, he was not the man who set Herath's fields. Mahela Jayawardene had Sri Lanka's reins, and no matter who walks out for the toss on Thursday, they would be wise not to relieve him of them.

So often the flagbearers for fight in global events, New Zealand encountered a man whose fire consumed their own in Chittagong. Sri Lanka had made each of the last five semi finals in global events, and with one of the great T20 spells, Herath ensured hope for that elusive title would not wither just yet.

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

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  • sri on April 2, 2014, 10:59 GMT

    NZ match is done and dusted.Now let's concentrate on the WI. They will be on a tremendous high after their game against the Pakis and hence a shrewd plan is vital to ensure a win for SL.I think sanga has to drop down in the order as he takes time and uses up a lot of balls to get going.Herath obviously has to play and I'd prefer Thirimanne in place of Chandimal.That said how's SL going to prevent Gayle getting off to a flyer which is paramount as the WI bat around him when he gets going.Malinga has to control his direction and curtail his balls going on the leg side as he invariably goes for 4 almost everytime he bowls on the leg side.SL also have to avoid panicking if they loose quick wickets and adopt a watch and wait approach and Dilshan is due for a big one sooner than later.Hope the dew stays away or is in manageable proportions and Perera doesn't get another dud one in the match. Good luck SL play to your potential and the rest will take care of itself

  • palitha on April 2, 2014, 2:31 GMT

    I feel like I am watching 3.3 over spell unfolding sitting on Herath's shoulders. Allow me to be thankful to cricinfo for employing team of brilliant writers. Thank you Andrew, keep it up.

  • Josh on April 1, 2014, 22:22 GMT

    Nice article Andrew. Thanks!

  • Kepili on April 1, 2014, 19:57 GMT

    SL had to fight many battles apart from cricket to secure a place in SF, being the only subcontinental team in Chittagong group. Pace & bouncy conditions helped NZ, SA, Eng particularly in the evening, when dew helped the ball zip on & the spinners became virtually ineffective due to the wet ball . Therefore, SL did not have the luxury the other 3 subcontinent sides enjoyed playing in Mirpur! 1) SL had 3/4 of their outings scheduled in the late evening slot (battling to grip the ball & failing to defend 190 Vs Eng in that "Humid-Sauna" dome was a prime example). 2) Double standard inconsistent umpiring consistently battered SL. FREQUENCY of CUTTING SHORT SL BATTING & LETTING OFF FELLING OPPONENTS was clearly beyond the PROBABILITY of MARGINAL ERRORS! IGNORED wides & above waist/head NB etc. added to the tally. In any format, this is major battle to face apart from cricket. This is Why the DRS is so vital to any NON INFLUENTIAL team like SL & to the FUTURE EXISTENCE of GENUINE SPORT!

  • James on April 1, 2014, 18:04 GMT

    I think Herath got Boult with a carrom ball.

  • Dummy4 on April 1, 2014, 17:39 GMT

    Kudos for the article. Very well summed up. I enjoyed the article as much as I did Herath's boiwling

  • Wala on April 1, 2014, 12:38 GMT

    mirandola wow, you seems to be a expert than a all the commentators and all the players. Care to play or coach a country???? Man couch cricket and playing the actual thing is different.

  • Android on April 1, 2014, 11:14 GMT

    one bad day in the office and New zealand is out .They are a very good side. moize

  • Yasitha on April 1, 2014, 10:55 GMT

    kusal was the unluckiest player in the tournament......hopefully no more umpire errors in Semifinals....

  • sachit on April 1, 2014, 9:07 GMT

    To take nothing away from Herath, the captaincy was outstanding, despite Malinga being the designated skipper, Jayawardane''s magical cricket mind was the architect of the field settings and the brilliant rotation of bowlers.

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