The selection of left-arm spinner Rangana Herath in Sri Lanka’s final 2011 World Cup squad would have raised several eyebrows. The 32-year-old cricketer had never been part of the one-day set-up and his career stats prove it - six ODIs in 2004 and three ODIs in 2010. Overall in an international career spanning nearly a dozen years Herath had appeared in only 9 ODIs for his country. World Cup team-mate Thisara Perera who played his first ODI five years after Herath has represented his country in more matches - 15. Herath has throughout his career been the unsung hero of Sri Lanka cricket playing in the shadow of the phenomenal Muthiah Muralitharan.
Herath’s selection to the World Cup side is the continuation of a dream run which he is still experiencing. It began in 2009 with a telephone call when he was playing cricket in England in the Staffordshire League. Key spinner Muralitharan was forced out of the first Test against Pakistan at Galle in July with a knee injury and Sri Lanka desperate for an experienced spinner sent an SOS for Herath to join the team midway during the season.
Barely 24 hours after arriving in Galle he was drafted into the Test side and how well he responded to his country’s call bowling them to an improbable 50-run victory with four wickets for 15 runs off 11.3 overs on the fourth day. Herath ended the series on a high with 15 wickets (avg. 26.93) and has not looked back since. In a further seven Tests he captured 27 wickets and with the retirement of Muralitharan from Test cricket he is set to play a key role in the Sri Lankan bowling line-up in the next few years.
“I must thank Sanga (Sangakkara), Murali (Muralitharan) and the selectors for taking the decision to get me down from England for the series,” Herath told The Nation. “I had not played international cricket for some time but they had kept their trust in my abilities that I can still do something for the team. It has been the turning point of my career.”
Selection to the World Cup team is another feather in Herath’s cap. “To be selected to play in my first World Cup at 32 is certainly the highlight of my career. It’s a dream come true and it’s something special. My selection didn’t come as a surprise because I knew being a member of the 30-man squad I stood a good chance of making it into the final 15.”
“If you take teams like New Zealand, Pakistan, Bangladesh all of them have a specialist left-arm spinner. We are playing against Asian countries in the World Cup and it is essential that a specialist left-arm spinner is included,” said Herath. “When you are playing against countries like Pakistan, Australia, Canada and Zimbabwe they’ve got lot of right-handers and a left-arm spinner can do something special against them.”
Comparatively New Zealand have their captain Daniel Vettori, Pakistan has Abdur Rehman and Bangladesh Shakeeb-al Hassan, the captain and Abdur Razzak.
What sort of impact he would make on the World Cup, Herath wasn’t so sure. “I don’t know whether I will play in all the games or not. I am sure only two spinners will play at any given time. Murali will definitely play and the other place is between Ajantha (Mendis) and me.
“Sanga knows what kind of role each of us has to play in the team. He will expect of us the same thing what we have done in the recent past. If I get the opportunity I am not going to do anything special but continue with what I have been doing in the recent past in Test cricket. There is a difference playing one-day and Test cricket. Normally in Test cricket you have to concentrate on line and length always testing the batsmen with flight and pace. In one-day cricket you cannot do that. You have to concentrate ball by ball,” said Herath.
“I have not done anything special with my bowling but in the recent past I’ve gained some experience playing Test cricket. I am sure it will help me in the World Cup,” he said.
Herath bowls a mystery ball that comes into the batsman, a faster ball and an arm ball. “I am sure the variations will help me and my team in the World Cup and in my future as well.”
With the World Cup being played on subcontinent pitches Herath was confident the spinners will play a major role in deciding the fate of the trophy.
“With Murali in the side you can’t compare Sri Lanka with any other country. We have nothing to talk about him. It is not only a privilege but a dream to bowl with Murali. In our schooldays we watch cricket and Murali playing, so it is special for me to play with him. I am sure Murali will do something special for the team because this is his last World Cup. We are trying everything to win this World Cup,” said Herath who plans to take it series by series from now onwards before he decides to quit the game.