Sunday, December 9, 2012

Rise of the Sri Lankan Silent Assassin

Rangana Herath is now sharing the 2nd position of ICC Test bowling rankings with Vernon Philander, both of them are there with 838 points. Only Dale Steyn is ahead of them with 880 points. According to this rankings Herath is the highest ranked spinner in the world at the moment. This is probably the greatest highlight of his career. His number of points, 838 is his career best. Many would argue as Saeed Ajmal or Graeme Swann is the current best spinner in the world. Herath doesn't have many variations or anything special other than tight lines and lengths. But he is effective. He had to fill the vacuum left by Murali. Probably he will not be able to fill it completely. But Herath has been doing it really well until now.

Sri Lanka's home test series against Pakiatan in 2009 has been the turning point of Rangana Herath's career. He wasn't there in the original squad or in selectors minds. He was light years away from playing for Sri Lanka again. He was able to pick just 1 wicket by giving away 115 runs against Bangladesh in his last match, in 2008. His career figures were standing as

14-Matches 36-Wickets 39.38- Average 7/132 - Best Bowling in a Match  (against Pakistan)

Not impressive at all. Reason for these figures partly because of Murali's dominance and partly Herath not getting opportunities consistently. This has been the fate of most of the Sri Lankan spinners during Murali's era.

Destiny is a funny thing and some things are meant to be. Just a day before the start of 1st test at Galle, Murali got injured. 22 years old Suraj Randiv who was yet to make his debut, was the 3rd spinner in the squad (Ajantha Mendis was there). (Add to that Prasanna Jayawardene also was injured and Kaushal Silva was the extra wicket keeper in the squad). Angelo Mathews was certain to make his test debut in this match. By looking at the injured list and the squad, it was looking like Sri Lanka will play 3 debutants in the 1st test. But Kumar Sangakkara who was Sri Lankan captain did not want to take a risk with too many debutants. He wanted Herath in the squad as soon as possible, probably because of Pakistan's weakness against slow left arm spin and Herath's ability to open the innings ? (Herath opened the 2nd innings as nightwatchman with Warnapura). Herath was playing in the Staffordshire League in England when he was summoned. He landed Sri Lanka just few hours before the start of the match. Luckily for Herath, Pakistan chose to field 1st. (Even though this is irrelevant, to complete the story :- Sri Lanka decided to go with Dilshan as the wicket keeper and Saeed Ajmal made his test debut for Pakistan).

It took 47 overs to bowl Herath in the 1st innings, mainly to give him more time to recover from jet lag. He took 1 for 52 in 16 overs. But his career turning bowling spell happened in the 2nd innings. At the end of day 3, Pakistan were 71/2 chasing 168. Chances were looking bleak for Sri Lanka. But Herath turned the match on its head. Herath managed to remove both overnight batsmen in his 1st over of the day. Pakistan collapsed from 71/2 to 117 allout. Herath's figures were 4/15 in 11.3 overs. This was the time Herath shown that he belongs to test cricket. Herath played all 3 test matches and managed to pick 15 wickets at 26.93, also the 2nd highest wicket taker in the series.
Since then, he never looked back. From July 2009, he has picked 138 wickets at 27.14 in 28 matches. Since Herath made his came back in July 2009, among the bowlers who have managed to take more than 50 wickets, this is where he stands.
However Herath is among the highest wicket takers in the year 2012 so far. It is a close run between Swann and Herath.

Swann has 56 wickets from 13 matches (23 innings) and Herath 55 wickets from 8 matches (15 innings). You can say Herath has played most of his matches on Asian spin friendly pitches. But except 5 matches in England, Swann also has played 8 matches in Asia. If we consider the average, Saeed Ajmal has the best average of 20.56 in 6 matches (12 innings) and Herath is 2nd best with 20.94. Got to mention that Ajmal played all his 6 matches in Asian pitches and Herath's 8 matches includes the new year test at Cape Town. However these statistics will change since Swann has the Nagpur test and Herath has 2 tests in Australia.

This is Herath's performances in Sri Lanka's last 3 series.

It is safe to say that Herath has able to out played all opposition bowlers including Swann and Ajmal in these series. Herath might not be able to fill Murali's shoes completely. But He is doing pretty well at this stage of post Murali era in Sri Lankan cricket.

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