‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ could be the best possible description to use at the time of the Rangana Herath retirement news.

Herath Retirement: Pot belly, dodgy knees, years in the wilderness? No problem.

 

The quirky factoid that went with the announcement of his retirement was that he’s the last cricketer still in action to have played a Test match during the 90s, having made his debut in 1999.

This may just seem like a cool piece of trivia but perhaps it’s more significant than it first appears. The 90s gave us plenty of players richer in talent for the game than for beep tests and CrossFit sessions. Warne, Inzamam, Ranatunga, Boon. You have to wonder whether their appetite for seconds may have cost them their careers if they were playing today, much like happened with the likes of Samit Patel and Umar Akmal. Even the great Angelo Matthews was recently dropped from the ODI side because his running between the wickets wasn’t up to scratch and was deemed to be costing the side runs. What would today’s nutritionists and physios have made of WG Grace?

 

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At 5ft 6, there’s not much to him. His hair is greying round the sides. He has a bit of a belly that would make some describe him as ‘rotund’; that shape of someone for whom eating three meals a day is a pleasure rather than a chore.

But if there’s one thing that sport has taught us is that there isn’t just the one body shape when it comes to being a champion. Phil Taylor doesn’t look like a man who on 16 occasions was the best darts player in the world. Cristiano Ronaldo may look like a footballing Adonis, all perfect pecs and rock-hard abs but Lionel Messi looks like someone who would struggle to carry two bags of heavy shopping, let alone a man who won five Ballon D’Ors and every other individual honour in the game.

If you’re good enough, you’re fit enough, young enough and strong enough.

And boy, was Herath good enough.

 

Rangana Herath: Most successful left-arm bowler in history

 

His 92 Tests yielded 430 wickets over a 19-year career. He’s the 10th highest-wicket taker in Test history, at the time of writing. It’s perhaps no coincidence that he chose to play one last Test before calling it a day. Much like he worked out how to get batsmen out for two decades, he also worked out that two more wickets in his last-ever Test at Galle would see him overtake Richard Hadlee into ninth, five would see him leapfrog Kapil Dev into eighth.

He’s the most successful left-arm bowler in Test history. Even though he was less of a limited-overs player, he still won the T20 World Cup with Sri Lanka in 2014. They looked dead and buried in an all-or-nothing match against New Zealand when defending a small total (119), Herath looked like taking a wicket with every delivery he bowled, eventually finishing with five wickets for the loss of just three runs.  It was the game-changing spell; they never looked back after that.

 

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Herath Retirement: the man who overcame the odds

 

The beauty of the Herath story is not so much because it’s one of glory and honours but because it’s one of overcoming adversity. What adversity? Oh, take your pick.

He was given the task of succeeding in Muttiah Muralitharan the most successful bowler in history in both Tests and ODIs. No pressure then.

He was recalled to the Test side in 2009 after a long absence. He had to start again. At the time he was playing club cricket in England.

He had dodgy knees. Not helped by the fact that when playing in the sub-continent he was often asked to pretty much bowl unchanged for hours on end as the pitch took more turn. Also, not helped by the fact that most of his playing time came well after his 30th birthday. And also past his 40th.

But the affable spinner didn’t seem like a man to be fussed about any of this. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

He made his ‘run-up’ and action as economical as possible, to conserve his energy levels.

Not the most natural turner of the ball, he worked with subtle variations of pace. Most of the time he didn’t turn it at all.

He learnt better than most the subtleties of when to use (and not to use) DRS.

Unsuited to lots of nurdling and running between the wickets when batting, he dealt in either cuts, pulls, sweeps and slog-sweeps… or just immaculate forward defensives.  He scored three Test fifties and a further 15 First-Class ones.

He adapted, changed, adjusted and re-create himself as his body, tactics and the game itself kept on changing.

We’ll miss him when he’s gone. The fact he looks a guy who should be driving the team bus rather than being the most precious commodity on it.

The way he was always thinking three or four deliveries ahead. Bowling this delivery and then that one so that with his fourth one he’d bowl the one that he’d banked on to get his man. And speaking of banks, did you know that when he’s not playing cricket for his country, he works in a bank? A proper bank job, not showing up and taking some photos for an advert.

 

Herath retires…but not before a swansong at Galle

 

It’s an often over-used expression but just like the book and cover one, it certainly applies to him; they don’t make cricketers like him anymore.

Sri Lanka are 13/8 to win that First Test, Herath’s last. The smart money is on Sri Lanka winning it. The even smarter money is on Herath’s fingers being the ones spinning them to victory.

 

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