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
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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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • gularan 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-Ferdinands 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.

  • TheKeeper on April 1, 2014, 22:22 GMT

    Nice article Andrew. Thanks!

  • SLC-2020 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!

  • Kula_Bowls_Inswing on April 1, 2014, 18:04 GMT

    I think Herath got Boult with a carrom ball.

  • 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

  • WTEH 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.

  • 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

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

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

  • 9ST9 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.

  • gularan 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-Ferdinands 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.

  • TheKeeper on April 1, 2014, 22:22 GMT

    Nice article Andrew. Thanks!

  • SLC-2020 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!

  • Kula_Bowls_Inswing on April 1, 2014, 18:04 GMT

    I think Herath got Boult with a carrom ball.

  • 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

  • WTEH 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.

  • 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

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

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

  • 9ST9 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.

  • on April 1, 2014, 8:54 GMT

    Adnan, Mendis took 6 for 8 in a T20i once.

  • 9ST9 on April 1, 2014, 8:47 GMT

    @Adnan Hatim - no the best figures in a T20 International belongs to Ajantha Mendis 6-8 vs Zimbabwe in 2012. In ODI's the record belongs to Chaminda Vaas who get 8-19 vs again, Zimbabwe. So in non of the shorter format's is this THE record for a SL bowler. But this was probably the most memorable piece of bowling along with Malinga's 4-in-4 against SA in 2007.

  • on April 1, 2014, 7:59 GMT

    can any one tell me is this best figure by any SL Player?

  • Saman23 on April 1, 2014, 7:45 GMT

    Kusal Perera is so unlucky wrongly given out in two consecutive matches....poor quality umpiring.

  • Kavum on April 1, 2014, 7:34 GMT

    Well written article Fidel. Hope you keep the faith.

  • PakSelectorsRbad on April 1, 2014, 7:13 GMT

    Cricet class and inventions are in Asia.no doubt future is Asia..Not sure how long English and Austrailian cricket will survive

  • mirandola on April 1, 2014, 6:33 GMT

    What is called the 'doosra' is simply the right-handed off-spinner's googly, every one of us has bowled this from time to time, it is nothing new; the 'carom ball' - if it has any meaning at all - is a top-spun slow spin ball that takes an unexpected angle; spin bowling was perfected sixty or seventy years ago and there have been no 'new' developments since then. What gets spinners wickets is accuracy and doubt - the doubt in the batsman's mind. All the rest of this balderdash is just commentators making words.

  • A1499 on April 1, 2014, 6:16 GMT

    agree poor umpiring in match

  • A1499 on April 1, 2014, 6:11 GMT

    absolutely brilliant by herath. maybe nz should've tried some more spin not nathans defensive bowling

  • Asif_Bary on April 1, 2014, 5:26 GMT

    What a wonderful perfomance !! Hope Rangana can play for another 2 to 3 years. He has matured into a fine bowler. His stats would have been much better if not for the fact that he was under Murali's shadow for most of time. Well done Rangana

  • IMG_SL on April 1, 2014, 5:07 GMT

    Really an interesting article. Herath's approaches against each batsman is brilliant.

  • on April 1, 2014, 5:06 GMT

    This time it will be the World title to Sri Lanka, as Herath the destroyer is with us.

  • priceless1 on April 1, 2014, 5:01 GMT

    It was his flight ( alone with his few variations )which undone the Kiwi's , i thought Sena bowled too short and given enough time for batters to read him off the pitch ( though he had many variations than Herath ).

  • on April 1, 2014, 4:56 GMT

    Congratulations To Sri Lanka For Winning A Fantastic Twenty 20 Match. Especially To Herath, We Saw Some Traditional Top Class Left Arm Spin Bowling. Beautiful Flight And Variation, It Was Too Hot For New Zealand To Handle. Sri Lanka's Performance Was Spot On, With Super Bowling Changes And Field Placing All Done By The Master Thinker Mahela.Go Lions! Good Luck

  • RoshJ on April 1, 2014, 4:33 GMT

    What a man, what a player WHAT A CHAMPION..Rangana is indeed more than what meet the eye!! It was an honour to see his majic..there is Murali and there is Rangana....proudt to be Sri Lankan!

  • randikaayya on April 1, 2014, 4:21 GMT

    Brilliant article Andrew! Articulate and factual, massively worth the read! As you say there's more to Herath than meets the eye and we are not talking of the love handles here ;)

  • Poholiyadda on April 1, 2014, 4:02 GMT

    A great spell of spin bowling by Herath to rescue Sri Lanka. Congratulations to the lankan lions, but feel very sad for the talented young opener Kushal Perera who was undone by consecutive poor decisions by umpires against England and New Zealand.

  • bruce1210 on April 1, 2014, 4:00 GMT

    Good piece Andrew. As a Kiwi, I was dumfounded by the ineptitude of the NZ batsmen. The pitch was bowler-friendly, but the capitulation was pathetic. As you say, Herath spins it one way (with plenty of variation in flight), so what was the mystery? Taylor could have been out to any of the balls he faced and McCullum, well, what can you say? Neesham seemed totally overawed by the occasion and Ronchi isn't as good as the NZ selectors seem to think. Time to bring in Watling in all forms of the game. A pity Anderson couldn't bat, but I suspect he would have been fumbling around like the rest. We're not as good as we think we are: we can't play spin and we can't play real pace. And yet these guys will tell you they don't need coaching! They may be the best we've got (and the pool of talent in a small country is limited), but it's time they got some technical advice to handle the better attacks.

  • Udendra on April 1, 2014, 3:48 GMT

    Ross Taylor would have been gone earlier. Really poor umpiring.

  • on April 1, 2014, 2:59 GMT

    Rangana Herath has proved how worthy he is in any format, as long as he is entrusted with the ball. A great come back game for Sri Lanka. All the best to the rest of the match(es).

  • nickexplore on April 1, 2014, 2:59 GMT

    Brilliant analysis from a fine cricket writer. Herath was superb. Indeed, the selectors would be mad to let the reins slip from Mahela's astute grasp.

  • Sinhaya on April 1, 2014, 2:54 GMT

    Fact is that Sri Lankan bowling attack is far better than so called Indian bowling attack. We managed to get Netherlands and NZ out for double digit totals when Indians would never do that in their dreams. We all know that Indian batting cant even survive on expressways as shown by the Sharjah debacle all out for 54 in an EXPRESSWAY when Sanath Jayasuriya clobbered 189. India were all out for 66 in Durban in 1997 too which is an expressway haha.

  • Manu_reddy on April 1, 2014, 2:53 GMT

    Am from India and am happy to see herath doing well, such a class act..i was very surprised when lanka played mendes instead of herath bcs mendis is good against only lower teams and the people who have not played against him but herath is a smart cricketer with who knows his limitations..well bowled chota sab.all the very best Sri Lanka for rest of the tournament..

  • on April 1, 2014, 1:25 GMT

    Good job on the article Andrew. Its always gratifying to read your take after a good SL win.

  • on April 1, 2014, 1:05 GMT

    Great article Andrew - to think that SL's spin wardrobe was threadbare is an understatement... Martin Crowe's riduculous pre-match statement about NZ winning the match because Malinga was Captain can only come from a person of his limited cricketing brains similar to him already writing of SL for next years world cup. Having the luxury of 3 ex Captains and a current Captain who on earth would have the silly inclination of even suggesting that Malinga would be SL's nemesis... Whist the Cricketing world look in awe at the Narine's, Ajmal''s, Steyns, this little rotund guy ambushed a rampaging Kiwi side and spread a terrible rash amongst their key batsman.. T20 is more than a game of glorious uncertainties - As Mahela rightly put it the side that loses is the side that made more mistakes. Having said that there is two more hurdles for SL to clear and they need to sort out their batting which was woeful today in spite of the tricky wicket - Dilshan sacrificed his wicket and Sanga was limp

  • KingOwl on April 1, 2014, 0:16 GMT

    It's a great article. Enjoyed reading it. Non SL fans may say that it's a bit of hyping of Herath. But Andrew has a gift for writing this stuff, no doubt about it.

  • miles100 on March 31, 2014, 23:23 GMT

    I love this article. Well said Andrew Fidel Fernando. Most of the matches that SL has played so far in this tournament were won because of their bowling. The day batters did well against England the bowlers struggled. In order to win the next 2 matches, all SL need to do is play to their best potentials in all 3 departments in one day and if this is happening, then my money is on SL to win that elusive title.

  • jerryman on March 31, 2014, 22:58 GMT

    What a sensational spell. He mesmerised the NZ batsmen and I felt they were like deer looking at headlights.. He was ably supported by Sena who applied pressure by taking wickets and being economical as well. Building pressure will always result in a slew of wickets especially in this format . The team that handles the pressure moments well , will be the victors. Congrats to SL and I liked the comments of Brendon , giving full credit to the opposition . NZ are a good side but like other non Asian sides they need to learn to adapt to spin . Similarly Asian teams must adjust to pacier wickets when they tour abroad.

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  • jerryman on March 31, 2014, 22:58 GMT

    What a sensational spell. He mesmerised the NZ batsmen and I felt they were like deer looking at headlights.. He was ably supported by Sena who applied pressure by taking wickets and being economical as well. Building pressure will always result in a slew of wickets especially in this format . The team that handles the pressure moments well , will be the victors. Congrats to SL and I liked the comments of Brendon , giving full credit to the opposition . NZ are a good side but like other non Asian sides they need to learn to adapt to spin . Similarly Asian teams must adjust to pacier wickets when they tour abroad.

  • miles100 on March 31, 2014, 23:23 GMT

    I love this article. Well said Andrew Fidel Fernando. Most of the matches that SL has played so far in this tournament were won because of their bowling. The day batters did well against England the bowlers struggled. In order to win the next 2 matches, all SL need to do is play to their best potentials in all 3 departments in one day and if this is happening, then my money is on SL to win that elusive title.

  • KingOwl on April 1, 2014, 0:16 GMT

    It's a great article. Enjoyed reading it. Non SL fans may say that it's a bit of hyping of Herath. But Andrew has a gift for writing this stuff, no doubt about it.

  • on April 1, 2014, 1:05 GMT

    Great article Andrew - to think that SL's spin wardrobe was threadbare is an understatement... Martin Crowe's riduculous pre-match statement about NZ winning the match because Malinga was Captain can only come from a person of his limited cricketing brains similar to him already writing of SL for next years world cup. Having the luxury of 3 ex Captains and a current Captain who on earth would have the silly inclination of even suggesting that Malinga would be SL's nemesis... Whist the Cricketing world look in awe at the Narine's, Ajmal''s, Steyns, this little rotund guy ambushed a rampaging Kiwi side and spread a terrible rash amongst their key batsman.. T20 is more than a game of glorious uncertainties - As Mahela rightly put it the side that loses is the side that made more mistakes. Having said that there is two more hurdles for SL to clear and they need to sort out their batting which was woeful today in spite of the tricky wicket - Dilshan sacrificed his wicket and Sanga was limp

  • on April 1, 2014, 1:25 GMT

    Good job on the article Andrew. Its always gratifying to read your take after a good SL win.

  • Manu_reddy on April 1, 2014, 2:53 GMT

    Am from India and am happy to see herath doing well, such a class act..i was very surprised when lanka played mendes instead of herath bcs mendis is good against only lower teams and the people who have not played against him but herath is a smart cricketer with who knows his limitations..well bowled chota sab.all the very best Sri Lanka for rest of the tournament..

  • Sinhaya on April 1, 2014, 2:54 GMT

    Fact is that Sri Lankan bowling attack is far better than so called Indian bowling attack. We managed to get Netherlands and NZ out for double digit totals when Indians would never do that in their dreams. We all know that Indian batting cant even survive on expressways as shown by the Sharjah debacle all out for 54 in an EXPRESSWAY when Sanath Jayasuriya clobbered 189. India were all out for 66 in Durban in 1997 too which is an expressway haha.

  • nickexplore on April 1, 2014, 2:59 GMT

    Brilliant analysis from a fine cricket writer. Herath was superb. Indeed, the selectors would be mad to let the reins slip from Mahela's astute grasp.

  • on April 1, 2014, 2:59 GMT

    Rangana Herath has proved how worthy he is in any format, as long as he is entrusted with the ball. A great come back game for Sri Lanka. All the best to the rest of the match(es).

  • Udendra on April 1, 2014, 3:48 GMT

    Ross Taylor would have been gone earlier. Really poor umpiring.