November 15, 2019
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    Sri Lanka cricket’s post Rangana Herath era

    November 11, 2018

    Doesn’t Rangana Herath deserve better? Nineteen years of international cricket and 433 wickets in Tests, did he not merit a better send-off than a 211-run thrashing in one of Sri Lanka’s favourite grounds? He is, after all, the highest global wicket taker among left-arm bowlers and the man who lifted his team to many a memorable win after the Muttiah Muralidaran era. Yes, he should have had a better send off.

    There were larger-than-life cutouts in and around the ground to celebrate Herath’s illustrious career. His family and friends, former teammates and captains (including Kumar Sangakkara, who figured significantly in Herath’s second coming in 2009), presentation of gifts and mementos by Sri Lanka Cricket and Herath’s sponsor to appreciate years of dedication and hard work. In the end, however, it was like a wedding without a groom.

    Not even Herath could prevent an English victory on Friday. The man who collected a total of 102 wickets at Galle Cricket Stadium managed just three in this match, an indication that the 40-year-old might have lost his sting. To retire was the right decision at the right time.

    “It is an emotional situation but everybody has to take a decision at the right time,” Herath said, before he was carried around the ground on the shoulders of his teammates. “I am thankful for all the years that I have played and the people behind me, especially my teammates and Sri Lanka Cricket. I must thank everyone.” Smiling broadly, he acknowledged the crowds by waving to them for the last time.

    Chandika Hathurusingha, who played a big role in Herath’s career at Moors SC, paid a glorious tribute to a gentleman cricketer who is the last to emerge from the 90s.

    “Rangana is a huge loss,” he said. “He will be missed; not only his performances but his personality. He is a leader among us. Someone else might come and take wickets, but to fill those leadership qualities will be tough.”

    That the Sri Lanka bowlers failed to tighten their grip and bowl England out for a below-par total in the first innings of the first Test was a bigger worry for the hosts ahead of the remaining games in Kandy and Colombo. Without Herath, it will be even tougher.

    For a moment, Sri Lanka had the advantage. The tourists were reduced to 98 for 5 before noon on day one. But the home team let it all slip away, allowing England to add a further 244 runs for the loss of the remaining five wickets. English wicket-keeper Ben Foakes had a memorable debut hitting a flawless century. It was an innings that laid the foundation for their historic win, their first in Galle.

    “I thought the support we got from Akila (Dananjaya) was not sufficient. After reducing them to 100 for five and if you had given another 150 runs for the next five batters, we would have been still in the game at this stage,” said Hathurusingha, a 49-year-old former Sri Lanka cricketer. Akila had 2 for 85 runs having bowled 38.5 overs in the match—a far cry from a man who is expected to fit the shoes of the retiring great.

    “We made a mistake there. Then, when we were batting in the first innings we lost four wickets for 40 odd runs. A total of 203 was a poor show. This kind of wicket, when you are placed so badly, is going to be tough.”

    That Sri Lanka crumbled like nine pins on a wicket they have played more often than any other team and got bowled out for 203 shows a lack of discipline and inability to adjust to conditions. In Hathurusingha’s own assessment, they were no more than a bunch of school kids playing a world class team.

    “When you play Test cricket, you need to understand how people are going to get you out,” he said at the post-match press conference. “You cannot come to international cricket and learn that. I didn’t see that before [referring to his earlier stint as shadow coach for Sri Lanka]. I’m seeing it during this tenure. Prior to this, people were more intelligent. If you are playing against turn and getting out, it is sad.”

    There was no demons on the pitch and it wasn’t turning as it used to. But, true to their character, the Sri Lankans gifted their wickets too often. After all, the 139-run first innings deficit was too much to stomach and set Sri Lanka’s fate in the match. England only needed to build on the advantage they gained and played with positive intent to put Sri Lanka out of the contest. They added a further 322 runs for six wickets before halting their innings at the fall of Ben Foakes wicket in the second innings. They had a lead of 461 runs.

    Keaton Jennings engineered England’s second innings with a career defining century—an unbeaten 146—to seal Sri Lanka’s fate as early as the third day of the Test. After all, no team has chased more than 420 and won a match.

    Sri Lanka negotiated the last half hour of play on day three and the first hour of play on day four. But it was as clear as the blue skies above that they were neither going to chase it nor save it, given the time left them in the match and fragility of their batting. There was brief resistance from Angelo Mathews and Kusal Mendis but this was not significant enough to pull
    Sri Lanka out of trouble.

    Mathews hit twin half centuries, showing a glimpse of the cricketer he was and answered those critics who thought he was unfit to play limited over cricket. But, going into the second Test starting November 14 in Kandy, there will be plenty of fresh headaches for the team management to avoid a series defeat. Sri Lanka’s fragile batting order, the bowling will be further exposed in the remainder of the series unless someone steps in to support Dilruwan Perera, the leader of the pack in the post Herath’s era. Dilruwan finished with a match bag of 7 for 179 runs.

    “I am concerned about the way they got out and the application they show,” said Hathurusingha. “On these wickets you have to play shots. It is very difficult to stay there and build your innings unless you are batting first or unless the wicket gets flattened. So that’s the concern.”

    There are two others in the pack, Malinda Pushpakumara—a man with a truck load of first class wickets (over 600)—a left arm spinner and Lakshan Sandakan—the Chinaman and it’s time these cricketers steps into, and strengthen the bowling.

    “Akila has been introduced to Test cricket. Sandakan has played before that. Malinda Pushpakumara is there. He has taken 600 odd wickets in First Class cricket–similar to Rangana. He will give similar control to us,” an optimistic Hathurusingha said.


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