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Rangana Herath: Getting better with age

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Rangana_Herath_Sri_Lanka_cricketAt 39 years of age, when most cricketers are leading a contented life in retirement, Rangana Herath is still active in international cricket, though he “only” plays Tests. He has been a prolific match winner for Sri Lanka in Tests and, like a fine wine, has gotten better with age.

He does not look like an international athlete, with his stocky frame and chubby cheeks. However, with a ball in hand he transforms into a lethal machine and has won more matches for his country than anybody except Muttiah Muralitharan. He may not pass the yo yo Test but he is proof of the theory that a player needs to be cricket fit, specific to his skill set, and not on just that he has to have a slim waist. Let us take a look at his long and glorious Test career.

Herath has taken 405 wickets in 85 Tests at an average of 27.82 and a strike rate of 59.5. He ranks joint 13th in the all-time wicket takers list in Tests, has the most wickets by a left-arm spinner and the fifth most by a spinner. He has 33 five-wicket-hauls in an innings and 9 ten-wicket-hauls in a match. His collection of five-wicket-hauls is the 5th most by a bowler in Tests while his ten-wicket-hauls are the joint third most in Tests along with Richard Hadlee.

Like most bowlers, Herath has a much better record at home than elsewhere. In favorable conditions at home, he has taken 263 wickets at an average of 23.69 and a terrific strike rate of 51.4, whereas away (and at neutral venues) he has taken 142 wickets at an average of 35.47 and a strike rate of 74.4.

His bowling record outside Sri Lanka might look pedestrian, but what must be taken into account is that due to a lack of support from his teammates, he has been forced to be both a stock bowler and a strike bowler on less friendly wickets.

 

His record in Asia is pretty impressive: 329 wickets at an average of 25.67 and a strike rate of 55.1. He stands third on the list of players who have taken the most wickets in Asia, just behind Muttiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble.

 

In the first, second, third and fourth innings, Herath averages 35.58, 29.46, 28.66 and 18.57 respectively. As a spinner, it is only natural that his performance improves with the wicket deteriorating as the Test progresses. He has claimed 102 wickets in the 4th innings at a rate of one wicket every 45.6 deliveries. These include 11 five-wicket-hauls and 5 ten-wicket-hauls, which are the second best and best respectively, by a bowler in Tests.

His 4th innings average is the 4th best among those who have taken at least 50 wickets in the 4th innings and the best by anyone with at least 60 wickets. This shows what a lethal bowler he is in the final innings and how he comes onto his own when there is any assistance in the pitch.

In Asia, he has taken 80 wickets in the 4th innings with an average of 18.73 and a strike rate of 44.2. In this he outranks every other bowler, including Murali, Kumble and Ravichandran Ashwin.

 

Herath has taken more than 50 wickets in a calendar year 4 times in Tests: in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017, he took 60, 56, 57 and 51 wickets respectively (and 2017 isn’t over). Only Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Glenn McGrath are ahead of him, having done so in 8, 6 and 5 years respectively.

 

On the 35 occasions where he played a role in a Lankan victory, he has taken 227 wickets at an average of 18.89 and a strike rate of 43.8. Only Murali has taken more wickets in Tests won by Sri Lanka.

Murali was a colossus for Sri Lanka in Tests and overshadowed all bowlers who played with him. Herath is no exception to this and took just 39 wickets in 15 Tests at an average of 45.46 and a strike rate of 88.9 in Tests where Murali also played.

In the 70 Tests without Murali, he has taken 366 wickets at an average of 25.94 and a strike rate of 56.3. This shows that once he came out of Murali’s shadow, he has been a most effective assassin.

Herath made his Test debut on 22nd September 1999 against Australia and was unexceptional in his first 22 Tests, taking just 71 wickets at an average of 37.88. However, from 23rd November 2010 till today, he has taken 334 wickets from 63 Tests at an average of 25.68.

During this time, no one has claimed more wickets than him. The closest is James Anderson, who is 16 wickets behind Herath despite having played in 14 Tests more than the Lankan spinner.

 

Herath has won 11 Man of the Match and 5 Man of the Series awards. Among Sri Lankans in the latter, he is second only to Murali, who leads the all-time list with 11.

 

In July 2016, Australia toured Sri Lanka for a 3 Test series and was annihilated 3-0. Herath took 28 wickets and was adjudged Man of the Series. This was the most wickets he has ever taken in a single Test series.

The only blip in Hearth’s career is his poor record against India. He has just 32 wickets in 9 Tests against them, at an extremely poor average of 45.96 and strike rate of 82.8. In spite of this, he won a Test against India at Galle almost single-handedly in 2015.

Herath has recently stated that his ambition is to win a Test in India, something that Sri Lanka have never done in 17 matches. They have lost 10 and drawn 7, and lost 5 out of the 7 Test series in India. If they want to have any chance of success, they will need Herath to fire on all cylinders.

 

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