Muralitharan: ‘Herath’s accuracy fetches him wickets’

The legendary spinner opened up on his successor after his match-winning performances against Pakistan ignited a revival of sorts for Sri Lanka.

A file picture of Muralitharan and Herath. "He (Herath) has done well for the country," says Muralitharan.   -  K. R. Deepak

The nineties marked the golden era of Sri Lankan cricket. Not only did the island nation lift the World Cup in 1996, but it also produced champions. The impact of the decade can still be felt.

When the Islanders, broken and beleaguered after the home series against India — they lost in all forms of the game — sniffed a spin of fate against Pakistan in Tests earlier this month, old warhorse Rangana Herath exposed his vintage arsenal.

The 39-year-old left-arm spinner made his debut in 1999, under Sanath Jayasuriya, and is one of the few remaining jewels from the golden decade.

However, Herath's flight didn’t take off immediately. Why? There was a certain Muttiah Muralitharan leading the Lankan spin attack those days. The former spin wizard remembers the young Herath, who was “accurate” from the onset. “I remember his debut match. He was always very accurate. But, at that time, he didn’t pick as many wickets and was always the second spinner. Later, Ajantha Mendis came and overtook him,” Muralitharan told Sportstar in an exclusive chat.

In the recent battle against Pakistan, Herath’s 16 wickets — which included a fifer and a six-for in the first Test — in four innings helped Sri Lanka whitewash its Asian rivals 2-0 in Abu Dhabi. His performance provided hope for a revival.

“His accuracy fetches him wickets, plus he also brings in 18 years of experience. He has done well for the country,” added Muralitharan, who has 800 wickets to his credit in 133 Tests.

The senior pro’s retirement in 2010 meant a second coming for Herath. Despite the wear and tear, Herath missed only two Tests since Muralitharan’s exit. He hung up his boots in limited-overs cricket in 2016, but didn’t let the gap left by Muralitharan's retirement widen for his country in Test cricket. “It has been seven years since I went; over that period of time till today, he has been phenomenal. He proved why he is so good a bowler,” said the legend, reacting to Herath’s success.

“I played Tests till 38. He is almost 40,” he laughed. When inquired about the secret behind the longevity, Muralitharan pointed: “Since he is playing only one format, that’s why he can keep going. Had he been playing all three formats, it would have been difficult.”

Herath’s Test report card reads a flattering 405 wickets in 85 matches.

Sri Lanka’s transition period — post the Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene farewell — has been rough. There have been frequent changes in captaincy, along with the shuffling of the selection committee. Amidst the gloom, Herath’s artistry has brought some relief.

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