Of all Sri Lankan Test bowlers who have taken over 30 wickets apiece in their careers, 12 are spinners. These 12 account for 1684 of the 3066 wickets which this 30+ group have bagged. I was propelled to look into this statistic, after 'debutant-skipper' Rangana Herath's performance in Zimbabwe.
Leading by example, at an advanced age in his Test career reminds one of India’s own leggie Anil Kumble, who got a chance to lead the Indians, towards the end of his career, and did a marvellous job of it.
Any spinner, no matter where in the world he/she would be playing, will look up to Muttiah Muralitharan as a bowler to be inspired by, a benchmark, if one may say so, which he could pursue to reach in their career. Daunting, for sure, but if Murali could get there after surpassing the likes of Kapil Dev, Courtney Walsh, Shane Warne... Maybe he dreamt of doing so whenever he held the cherry and looked at the padded-gloved opponent with bat in hand at the other end.
Of the 1684 wickets bagged by spinners Murali accounts for 800! And the next one - over 400 wickets behind him - the closest to his tally, is the current skipper Rangana Herath.
Of the 12 spinners, we have three left-arm orthodox spinners, two legbreak-googly bowlers and seven offspinners. Of course, among these offspinners figures Murali, who was adept at bowling legspin, as he demonstrated against the South Africans once upon a time!
Incidentally, both the legspinners have bagged 37 wickets each, one of them (Upul Chandana) beginning his career a good 15 years after the other hung up his boots (Somachandra de Silva, in 1984). Somachandra was special, as he was part of the Lankan team when they started playing Test cricket. In Sri Lanka's first ever Test match against England, in Colombo, he bagged three wickets in the first innings - those of Allot, Underwood and Gower.
He ended his career at Lord's bagging 2 wickets in the only innings of that drawn Test match. Upul Chandana burst onto the Test scene in style with a 6-for in his first innings, reminding some of Narendra Hirwani, but, not unlike Hirwani, the magic subsided thereafter.
While Somachandra de Silva was the first Lankan spinner to bag over 30 wickets, Jayananda Warnaweera, who combined his offbreak bowling with some medium pace, ended up with 32 wickets in his 8 year-long Test career, which ended in 1994.
In the same year that Warnaweera made his Test debut against Pakistan, Don Anurasiri, the slow left-arm spinner made an uneventful start to his Test career - wicketless on debut. He went on to bag 41 wickets. Two other left-arm spinners feature in this list- Sanath Jayasuriya and Rangana Herath, a former captain and a present one.
Jayasuriya was more of a part-time spinner who ended up with close to 100 Test wickets with his deceptive slow left-arm spin. Herath got to bowl in the company of Murali on his (Herath’s) debut. Bowling in tandem, the two bagged 9 Aussie wickets in an innings (Herath’s 4 to Murali’s 5). Herath has not been written or spoken about as much as Murali or Warne or Kumble would have been, but one look at the Manhattans (and the intermittent sheds) on his wicket-graph makes one conclude that he has been performing like a true soldier behind the scenes all along.
One recalls the hat-trick of 6-fors he got against England in 2012. And the three occasions when he bagged over 13 wickets in a Test, one of them including a 9 for 127 in it against Pakistan. However, some say that most of those successful spells have been bowled in Sri Lanka as they wish to take credit away from Herath. The sub-continent is known for its spin-tracks and spinners, whether they belong to the home team or the opposition, make merry on them.
Yet this does not detract from Herath’s achievements in Test cricket. Herath is only the third bowler in Test history to take 5-wicket hauls against all the other nine Test-playing nations. And guess what, Murali is one of the other two. He is the oldest player to have bagged 350 Test wickets and, after Tom Graveney who captained England in one Test match at the age of 41 as a stand-in for Colin Cowdrey, he is the second-oldest cricketer to captain a national side.
It has surely been relatively easier for the Lankans against the Zimbabweans and thereby one may be tempted to say that Herath got the nod against the minnows of Test cricket. But remember that the Zimbabweans can be lions at home! Lions in home-habitat often put visiting lions on the back-foot.
Now, that brings us to the offbreak bowlers. We talked about Warnaweera. The others in increasing order of wickets taken are Dilshan Tillakaratne (who retired recently from all forms of the game) who hung up his Test-cricket boots in 2013; Suraj Randiv who played for a short period of 2 years; Dilruwan Perera, Kumara Dharmasena, Ajantha Mendis and the one and only Murali. The first five have together bagged 278 Test wickets (39, 43, 67, 69 and 70 respectively).
If only those Lankan spinners who have bagged over 30 Test wickets are taken into consideration, the left-arm spinners have accounted for 29% of the total number of wickets bagged by the spinners, offbreak bowlers for 66.5%, and leggies for the remaining. The whopping share of the offies is largely due to that one man.
One really need not write anything about him, as most is already known.
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