For almost a decade Rangana Herath had been an emotion without whom the Sri Lankan cricket looked incomplete in the white jersey. Within a fortnight, the short stature left-arm spinner will walk in the sunset of his glorious career.
Throughout his journey, he has played with his heart on sleeve and as he now retires on his terms, he does so but not before having scripted his name in golden letters in Sri Lankan Cricket annals.
Scene 1: A desperate Australia seeking to square the series are bamboozled by the 21-year-old left-arm spinner. The spinner had few varieties one of the special ones was the carrom ball that the Australian failed to decode.
The future looked bright for this young man.
Scene 2 : Fast forward to 10 years. It is June 2009. A 31-year- old is sitting in the English summer playing club cricket only to keep himself fit. He somehow sustains the glimmer of hope for playing for his country again. His phone rings only to receive one of the most important calls of his life. Within 24 hours, he is in South Asia playing for Sri Lanka and in the next 4 days, he becomes the hero who helped his side defend a paltry target and register a sensational victory over his opposition.
Scene 3: Nine and half years down the line, we see a 40-year-old who stands on the throne of the highest number of wickets among left arm spinners. This feat is also the second highest for his country.
Rangana Herath will be walking in the sunset at the end of the first Test at Galle against England after scripting arguably the greatest comeback in the history of the game.
However, the struggles behind the pinnacle are missed by most.
Like many legends, Herath has an inspiring story that motivates especially if you are a sportsperson.
As a kid, Herath was always eager to play cricket as told by his elder brother
“Aiyo I could never get away from him, He was always wanting to play’’.
It was partly on the strength of these shots that Herath was recruited to Kurunegala’s Maliyadeva College. However, he had to give up his dream of becoming a fast bowler something suggested by his coach told that he was not tall enough to be a pacer.
So started his journey being a left arm spinner.
After his impressive debut against Australia, he was dropped after a solitary failure against Pakistan in 2000. He was out of the team for the next 4 years and returned only in 2004 against Australia.
For the next 18 months, Herath became a regular. From March 2004 to September 2005, Herath played 9 Tests and picked 29 wickets at 30.8.
Without setting the stage on fire, Herath was the fourth most successful bowler during that period and the second most successful spinner.
He, however, was discarded for another 3 years for the reason the selectors could better tell. It was like a life insurance premium you suddenly stopped receiving the benefits of.
It was insane. It shouldn’t have happened.
Yet, Herath persisted. He got an able support in Chandika Haturusinghe and his employer Sampath Bank both of whom proved to be good friends in this period of struggle.
In the offseason, he used to work at the card center of the bank and that helped him to sustain himself financially in the absence of cricket.
After being in darkness for another two and a half years, Herath was called into the team for West Indies Tour just when he had turned 30 in March 2008.
He failed to pick up a single wicket and was discarded with the rise of Ajantha Mendis. Some thought it was over. Others thought there was still some fight left in a man who had peaked.
At the end of 2008, he got another chance against Bangladesh in what looked like a make or break. Herath had a miserable outing as he took 1-115 and it seemed his final Test was to be the last one in his start-stop career.
He said to Hathurusinghe “Aiya probably my time has passed. I am going to play league in England’’.
It is believed, his continuous dropping had taken a toll on the fighter in him and, at last, he seemed to have accepted that the Test against Bangladesh in December 2008 was to be his last opportunity. Selectors too had given up on him after Bangladesh tour.
In 2009, when new contracts were announced, players like Ajantha Mendis, Suraj Randiv and Malinga Bandara were touted as successors of Murli, these new faces were given a preference over Herath who was out of the contract list. Could things have gone worse?
Hathurusinghe, however, continued to encourage him and then in June 2009 when Murali got injured, Kumar Sangakkara rang up Herath who didn’t lose a single second to fly from the UK to Sri Lanka to write a fairytale script of a remarkable comeback.
This was to be a rewriting of his own career.
Since his second coming in 2009, Herath has taken 394 wickets in 78 Tests. His average has been 26.90. It’s like the classic case of bargaining with a Jewish pro businessman. You won’t have it easy.
His best, though, would happen post-Murali and Vaas’ career.
It was because of him that Sri Lanka notched some of the most memorable wins like Durban 2011, Headingly 2014, the whitewashes against Australia and South Africa and cleaning Pakistan in Fortress Dubai in 2017. It is due to Herath’s contribution that Sri Lanka have been able to have good rankings in longer format while their limited overs cricket has plunged to its lowest ebb.
But one wonders what makes Herath legendary?
Age has never acted as deterrent factor for Herath in fact with age he has improved like an old wine.
Ever since he turned 35, he’s approximately clinched 35 wickets.
In his last Test which will be fittingly at Galle where his career was reborn a decade ago, he will have an opportunity to reach to 100 wickets landmark on the ground.
He currently stands at 99 wickets at the venue. A solitary wicket ahead would be like asking a child to snatch a candy. It should be that easy.
His remarkable appetite for a fight has led Sri Lanka to many great victories. In 2011, Sri Lanka won their first and only Test till date in South Africa, at Durban, wherein Herath clinched a 9-for.
In 2014, when Sri Lanka won at Leeds to win their first-ever series in England, Herath played changemaker with the bat making 48 runs and creating a crucial partnership with skipper Angelo Matthews.
Last year, Herath helped Sri Lanka do what no one has in the UAE in the last 9 years. They beat Pakistan to win a series against Pakistan at their adopted venue.
Herath was instrumental once again in this win. He dismantled Pakistan with 11 wickets in first test and shot them out for 114 while chasing a target of 136.
In spite of being a Test specialist, Herath has also been impressive in the shorter version of the game. His brilliant spell of 5-3 against New Zealand in 2014 T20 World Cup is still remembered as the key to Sri Lanka’s T-20 Triumph. It helped him emulate his childhood hero Aravinda De Silva who made 66 valuable runs in 1996 World Cup semi-final. His spell of 4-20 against India in Tri-series final showed his mastery of limited over games. However, his fielding and batting along with dodgy knees forced him to focus on Test Cricket. This is the reason why performance like Colombo 2015 against India has become more frequent. A Test where he took the rug under the feet of Indian team by turning Sri Lanka into a stunning victory from nowhere.
Sir Lanka has birthed great legends. They’ve come, conquered and gone. Add Rangana Herath’s name to that unmissable list.
For he was a fighter and shall not be forgotten. But what truly marks his legend is the fight he put in to emerge anew each time it seemed sand had been poured over his career.
It’s time for the nation, his teammates and world cricket to stand and applause the genius for he has played and walked away on his own terms. Well played Rangayaaa.
Some Key Facts about Rangana Herath
- He will finish as the second most number of wickets in Test Cricket for Sri Lanka behind Murali. He currently has 430 Test Wickets.
- Herath has most wickets among left arm bowlers be it pacers or spinners. With 414 wickets Wasim Akram is the next in line.
- Since turning 35, Herath has picked 230 wickets, the most after turning 35.
- Herath has picked 99 wickets at Galle, needing 1 to reach 100.
- His Test Career has stretched for 19 years and 2 months.