Herath’s retirement would present a spin-bowling conundrum

Herath’s retirement would present a spin-bowling conundrum

Sri-Lankan spinner Rangana Herath has been the mainstay of his country’s spin bowling department for quite some time now. When spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan bid adieu to the game, it was assumed that Sri Lanka would struggle to cope with international teams in his absence. However, Herath took over Murali’s reins and valiantly soldiered along for his team over the past many years. On several instances, he won matches for his country almost single-handedly. The T20 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand in 2012, and the recent Test match against India, where he took seven wickets on the last day to take his side to victory, are fine case in points. Herath has been a responsible bowler for Sri Lanka who kept on fighting while the others around him looked pale and worn out. His fighting spirit is renowned and Herath has commanded respect all over the cricketing world these past few years. Recently, Herath announced that he would consider retiring from the game after next year’s World T20 to be held in India. “With my age you cannot perform the way you did some 10-15 years ago. From my fitness I am doing the maximum with the injury, I am struggling a little bit on it,” Herath said to the media recently. “I cannot give a guarantee with my bowling or my fitness. I am trying to retain whatever energy I have and to prolong my career I have reduced the number of one-day matches and play only Tests. If I put a target to end my career I will not be able to give my maximum to the team. Every time I play I look to give 100% to the team. But before long I will have to take a decision on my future. I will decide after the World T20 which is to be played in India next year. We are the reigning champions and we have a good chance of defending it with the present team although they lack in a bit in experience,” he added. Herath will turn 38 by the time of the World T20 and this news isn’t really shocking by any means. He has been spearheading the Sri Lankan bowling attack for the past six years, but age is definitely catching up with him. With Herath’s inevitable retirement, though, there is bound to be a massive headache for Sri Lanka. Apart from him, there is no other spinner in sight, currently, who can take on the baton from Herath and continue his legacy. Sri Lanka’s strength has always been its spin bowling. Plenty of their spinners, especially in home conditions, have spun a web over the oppositions and strangled them with their guile. Over the years, Sri Lanka has tried many spinners. Some like Ajantha Mendis and Sachithra Senanayake shined for a brief period and have now faded away. Will Sri Lank now be able to find the next star for their spin bowling? Will the legend of Muttiah Muralitharan and the legacy of Rangana Herath wither away into oblivion?

 

THE LEGEND OF MUTTIAH MURALITHARAN
There has been hardly any bowler who has had such a massive impact on his country’s fortunes as Muttiah Muralitharan had for Sri Lanka. Yes, Australia’s Shane Warne was a genius as well. But Murali almost singlehandedly took his team ahead through the late 90s and the 2000s. He was a smiling assassin; quietly bamboozling the batsmen with his simply extraordinary abilities. He could spin the ball even on a cement track and was just unplayable on sub-continent conditions. In fact, teams from the Western shores feared coming to Sri Lanka for playing Test matches just because of the fear of playing Murali. The likes of West Indies, England, South Africa and even Australia struggled immensely when they had to tour Sri Lanka and face up to Muralitharan. A look at his records will give you a better idea of this man’s impact on cricket. In the 133 Tests that he played, Murali picked up 800 wickets at an average of 22.72, with 9-51 against Zimbabwe at Kandy being his best ever figures in an innings. He picked up another 9-for against England at The Oval in 1998 and had three 8-fors to go with it, along with innumerable other fivewicket hauls. His ODI figures are no less astounding. In the 350 ODIs that he played, the spin genius gobbled up 534 scalps at an average of 23.08 and at a stunning economy of 3.93 per over. His best figures were 7-30 vs. India at Sharjah in the year 2000. These are mind-boggling numbers indeed and it would take another genius to last for more than a decade to come even close to these figures. More than the numbers, though, Murali had an insurmountable impact on Sri Lankan cricket. When he began playing, Sri Lanka was still an evolving side. With his magnanimous contributions, he made Sri Lanka a force to reckon with. Despite the endless controversies surrounding his bowling action, Murali never gave up and kept on improving himself at the highest level. His continuous match-winning performances spurred his team-mates to better themselves as well and thus his effect can never just be measured in terms of figures. The amount of happiness, cheer and hope that Muttiah Muralitharan has given to Sri Lanka in his 18 years for the national side will be difficult to match and will be celebrated in cricketing lore for decades to come.

 

THE LEGACY OF RANGANA HERATH
As has been mentioned earlier, it was Rangana Herath who shouldered the responsibility of Sri Lankan spin bowling after Muttiah Muralitharan’s retirement. The one word that comes to mind when one wishes to describe Herath is ‘fighter’. He is a gutsy fighter who is a captain’s dream as he can toil relentlessly, without breaking down and continue piling on the pressure on the batsmen. “When Murali was playing, we never wanted another spinner. Then Murali went. We thought it was the end of Sri Lankan spin, but then fortunately we had Rangana, who single-handedly started winning games for us,” said Sri Lanka’s national spin bowling coach Piyal Wijetunge recently. He couldn’t have been more correct as the way Herath has led his side to many famous victories on his own is quite incredible. Herath has played 64 Test matches (at the time of writing) and had taken an impressive 278 wickets in them, at an average of 42.16 and with best innings figures of 9-127 vs. Pakistan last year at Colombo. Incidentally, with this 9-for, he became only the second Sri Lankan after Muttiah Muralitharan to take nine wickets in an innings in a Test match. He has taken 22 five wicket hauls in an innings and four 10 wicket hauls in a match. Undoubtedly, these are very impressive figures. Though they are nowhere close to Muralitharan’s numbers, Herath did have a significant influence on his team as well. Herath is one of those players who get better with age. Since Murali ruled over Sri Lanka for such a long time, it was difficult for Herath to break into the side. When he did, though, he made it count. His style is very different to Murali’s and rather than guile and big spin, Herath focuses on probing line and length and relentless accuracy. Over the past few years, the left-arm spin bowler has added a mystery ball to his reserve, which comes in very quick and darts back into the right-hander; often getting them out bowled or LBW. His subtle variations and ability to constantly bowl a tight line makes him a precious commodity for Sri Lanka and hence it would be a massive blow to them when he finally retires. Life after Herath? So now, the question is, how will Sri Lanka cope with their spin bowling department after Herath bids them adieu. The only other spinners who made any kind of impact for Sri Lanka these last few years were Ajantha Mendis and Sachithra Senanayake who are no longer under consideration. This will, hence, present a conundrum for the Lankan selectors that is likely to last for some time to come. Finding another talent that comes close to Murali or Herath will be a huge challenge. Among the new lot, Tharindu Kaushal and Dilruwan Perera have shown glimpses of promise but it is yet to be ascertained that they have it in them to last long. Moreover, Kaushal has already come under ICC’s scrutiny for his action. Hence, it is imperative that Sri Lanka seeks out some other prospects as well. Their national spin bowling coach Piyal Wijetunge is working earnestly to find an able replacement for Herath currently and sounds pretty optimistic about the future. He mentions three spinners - left-armers Amila Aponso and Sahan Nanayakkare, and legspinner Jeffrey Vandersay – as the ones who can help build the Sri Lankan spin bowling department in the coming years. He, along with Sri Lanka’s spin-bowling academy, is working tirelessly to hone the future spinners for the country. Hopefully, we will get to see some of them rise through and shine in the time to come. Whatever happens in the future, Sri Lankan cricket should always be indebted to Muttiah Muralitharan and Rangana Herath for their astounding services to the country. They have left behind a legacy which will be hard to fulfill. But if the young spin talents of Sri Lankan cricket can emulate even some of the traits that these remarkable cricketers had, then rest assured, the fate of the country’s spinners will be propitious. Interesting times, then, lie ahead for Sri Lankan cricket.





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