Rangana Herath eyes 300 Test wickets

CRICKET-SRI-WISWhile Rangana Herath may have retired from limited-overs cricket to extend his Test career, there may still be doubts over how much he could put his 38-year old body and those surgically repaired knees through. The Sri Lanka left-arm spinner, though, wanted to secure 300 Test wickets and be part of his team’s next 10 Tests before taking a call on his future.

“I have not set any goals for myself. Whenever I have played for my country, I have always wanted to see how best I could contribute to win,” he said. “That has been my approach all the time. It would be a big achievement if I can get to 300 Test wickets, but after that, I don’t see any goals that I can pursue.

“There are about ten Tests lined up for this year and I’ve decided that I can manage myself and my knees playing in that format rather than the hustle and bustle of one-day cricket,” he said.

Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas are the only Sri Lankans with 300 or more Test wickets. Herath is three short of the mark and could get to it this May in the first of three matches against England at Headingley, the venue where he played a starring role in a famous win for Sri Lanka in 2014.

With three Tests at home, against Australia, to follow the England tour and three Tests in South Africa in December, Sri Lanka would want to retain Herath’s services for as long as possible. He has been the team’s leading wicket-taker since Muralitharan’s retirement in July 2010. Overall, only James Anderson and Stuart Broad have taken more wickets than Herath’s 226 in this period.

The problem, though, is his fitness. In 2012, he underwent arthroscopic surgery to have the cartilages of both knees repaired.

“It was fine for the first few years or so, but with the extra workload of playing international cricket, the pain in both knees started to come back, especially when I am running,” Herath said. “I have managed to continue playing by taping my knees. I was not 100% certain of being fit to play in all three formats, that’s why I decided to stick to Test cricket, a pace at which I can manage my legs. I am lucky that I didn’t end up as a fast bowler because my career wouldn’t have lasted this long.”

Herath’s retirement would leave another hole in a Sri Lankan side that is struggling to cope with the retirements of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. But Herath expressed faith in the youngsters coming through. “You don’t need one bowler to run through the entire opposition,” he said. “We still have quality fast bowlers and spinners who can take 20 wickets to win a Test match.

“We have plenty of good spinners around, like Dilruwan Perera, Tharindu Kaushal, Sachithra Senanayake and Jeffrey Vandersay, but they need to be given a consistent run in the national team. That is how they will gain the confidence to bowl under pressure and under different conditions and situations and win matches for us. I will certainly want to share my experience and help young spinners and contribute in whichever way I can.”

Herath made his Test debut as a 21-year old in 1999, but it took him over a decade to find a permanent place in Sri Lanka’s XI. “When I was dropped from the side, I never gave up hope. I knew I had the skill to play for the national team and kept on performing at domestic level,” he said. “The national selectors thought that I was good enough and persisted with me for virtually all the matches played by the Sri Lanka A team. That gave me hope that one day I would be considered to play in the senior side.”

A tours, however, were infrequent at that time and Herath had been playing in the Staffordshire League in England in 2009, when he was summoned to the national squad to replace an injured Muralitharan for the home Tests against Pakistan. He took 15 wickets at 26.93 and helped Sri Lanka win the series 2-0.

Although Herath played 71 ODIs and 17 T20Is, he never played in a World Cup final until 2014 when Sri Lanka beat India to lift the World T20 title in Bangladesh. His 5 for 3 against New Zealand in a virtual quarter-final at that tournament is widely regarded as the best bowling performance in the shortest format.

Herath had helped his team enter World Cup finals on two other occasions, but was left out for the summit clashes. In the 2011 World Cup semi-final, he took 1 for 31 off nine overs against New Zealand, and in the 2012 World T20, he returned his second-best figures of 3 for 25 against Pakistan, both at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo.

Herath has not thought of life after cricket yet. “I am still employed with Sampath Bank and have some years to serve with them,” Herath, who is presently their business promotions manager, said. “I am lucky to have an employer like Sampath Bank who has never questioned my position even on occasions when I had not been part of the national team.”