It was Herath’s series!
Dimuth Karunaratne, though clinching the man of the series prize in the two Test series against Zimbabwe, was not the star for Sri Lanka. It was undoubtedly the diminutive skipper Rangana Herath who stole the show.
Being given the leadership almost at the eleventh hour one has to concede that getting one's mind around to such a job is never an easy task.
However weak and unprepared the opponents are, in sport, and especially in cricket, carrying the captaincy of the Sri Lankan cricket team is no easy task due to the massive expectations from the fans.
Besides, the pressure can always be high when you play against a weaker team as a draw is a win for them and could also be unfairly interpreted as a defeat for you.
It was in such context and backdrop that Rangana Herath led the young Sri Lankan team to Zimbabwe with everything to lose in case things didn't go according to plan. Besides, the Lankans weren't taking with them five regulars due to injury, which was another reason for concern. With such challenges in his hand Herath not only led the team but also bowled them almost singlehandedly to victory to achieve a clean sweep.
Herath's value to the Sri Lankan game is beyond doubt, and his efforts with the ball in Zimbabwe tends only to reconfirm the worries the Lankans have in their bowling department going forward.
What's after Herath is a question I have personally posed in many a column and commentary stints. As sure as the sun, it's going to be an issue for Sri Lanka when it eventually happens.
In the past - whilst I am digressing here - many worried about the era after the retirement of Jayawardane, Sangakkara and Dilshan. Definitely a worry, and no easy task to fill such large boots; though I feel that the Lankans seem to produce more quality batsmen than bowlers.
The advent of Mendis, De Silva and even Gunaratne, though very early in their respective careers, have confirmed my logic and they seem to ease into their roles without too much of fuss.
But we are yet to see a bowler capable of winning games for Sri Lanka on a regular basis.
Yes we do have Chameera, Vandersey, Aponso, Sandakan and even the young lad Lahiru Kumara, and they are bowlers capable of turning out to be good or even great in the future, but what one needs to accept is, a bowler takes time to mature through plenty of exposure and experience unlike a batsman.
The issue in the case of Sri Lanka where match winning bowlers are far and few, and when the dependency on a particular bowler is huge, then on his retirement the waiting period for the team becomes so long that winning can be a thing of the past.
Rangana Herath and Sri Lanka cricket has a similar relationship where the dependency is high on him. He is now thirty eight and not getting younger.
I know there is no need to touch on his achievements in Zimbabwe to confirm his value to the team. However, some of the records are phenomenal and laudable.
In a team where the support is not great, there is no doubt that wicket taking becomes tough however good you may be.
On the other hand, if one looks at bowlers such as Muralitharan and Warne, they had quality at the other end helping them in their task with the support provided.
Vaas was Murali's ally whilst Warne had McGrath and many other good bowlers to create the pressure needed for him to do the mopping up.
Looking back, cricket bowlers have operated mostly in pairs to be successful, and in the case of the West Indies they had four. In such a scenario bowling, and more precisely wicket taking, becomes easier. But spare a thought for Herath who had to do it all by himself for most of his career since he came back.
The best ever bowling effort in an innings and in a match against Zimbabwe in that country which he achieved only in his second Test against them has to be special.
Fifty wickets in the calendar year of 2016, three hundred and fifty wickets in Tests, seven ten wicket hauls are amongst some of the other achievements.
To cap it all he also became only the third Sri Lankan to win his first two Tests as captain. Rangana Herath hasn't still been called a legend though we all classify him as great. But it won't be too long before he reaches the legendary status.
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