An hour after the first Test between England and Sri Lanka ended, veteran Rangana Herath made a surprise visit to the press box and uttered a few words. “Gentlemen, I know you all are very busy. But let me take a few moments to say thank you for all the support you have given me over the last 19 years.”
Rangana Herath is a simple man and sportsmen like him in this day and age are few and rare. With his retirement on Friday, cricket ended its only link to the 20th century as Herath was the only active player to have debuted in 1990s.
“Someone else can turn up and take us the wickets he used to get us, but we will miss his leadership. He is the leader among us,” Sri Lanka Head Coach Chandika Hathurusingha said.
The respect he has earned among peers could be seen as several of his former teammates from Arjuna Ranatunga to Kumar Sangakkara turned up for the farewell game and Sanga called him the greatest cricketer that Sri Lanka has ever produced.
Greatest cricketer because he has been an absolute role model, willing to go through many a sacrifice due to the team’s requirements. Not a single incident has been reported about a rift between him and a team-mate or an administrator. Not a single drunken escapade or an illicit affair. On and off the field he has carried himself in an exemplary manner. Given the hard times Sri Lankan cricket has fallen on in recent times, Rangana Herath will be sorely missed.
He has been only once fined by the International Cricket Council. Chris Broad found fault with Herath during the Wellington Test of 2015 for not covering the logo of his helmet strap and fined him 25 percent of his match fee. The fault actually wasn’t his. Sanga had borrowed his helmet and so Herath had to depend on someone else’s. “I didn’t mind actually because using my helmet Sanga made a double hundred in that game,” Herath told Firstpost.
When you have a Muttiah Muralitharan in the side, opportunities for other spinners will be few and rare. It was the case with Herath. After his debut, Herath was playing the odd game mostly when Murali was injured or when the team opted to play a spin-heavy attack. The presence of part-time left-arm spin of Sanath Jayasuriya didn’t make things smooth either.
By 2009, young spinners like Ajantha Mendis and Suraj Randiv had emerged. The selectors were planning to have Mendis as the Test replacement for Murali while economical Randiv was believed to be Murali’s ODI replacement. Herath had completely gone off the radar. He had no contract with Sri Lanka Cricket.
Instead, he opted to ply his trade in England playing league cricket for Moddershall CC. Herath owes Kumar Sangakkara for reviving his career. With Murali injured 48 hours before a Test match against Pakistan in Galle in 2009, the obvious replacement was either Mendis or Randiv. Sri Lanka also had leg-spinner Malinga Bandara playing for ‘A’ team at home.
But Sanga went out of the box. That Pakistani side had some exceptional players of spin bowling in Mohammad Yusuf, Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq. Sanga felt that he needed someone with experience behind him more than a rookie. He thought that someone with abundance of First Class experience would be ideally suited for the challenge. So he made a big gamble. The selectors weren’t too impressed, but the captain could convince Head Coach Trevor Bayliss and deputy Chandika Hathurusingha.
So they made the call to England. Herath landed in Colombo 24 hours before the Test match, drove to Galle and made a memorable comeback spinning Sri Lanka to a come from behind victory. The rest as they say is history.
Galle has been a special place for him and during the England Test, he became only the third player in the history of the game to take 100 wickets at a single venue. Murali and James Anderson are the others. It was also here he took a hat-trick against Australia. But the most remembered game will be how he helped Sri Lanka defend 176 runs against India in 2015. India were bowled out for 112 runs and Herath took seven wickets in the second innings. No wonder he opted to retire in Galle.
Herath has been a loyal servant of Sri Lankan cricket serving ten different captains. They all have nothing but praise and admiration for him. He has stepped in as captain whenever there was an injury without being appointed captain or deputy full time. Most others would have grumbled, but Herath has been happy to do a job and move on.
Herath’s 433 Test wickets is the most by a left-arm bowler. His bowling feats can be equalled or surpassed but Herath’s personality will be unmatched.