Rangana Herath Revitalises Sri Lanka with Figures of 3.3-2-3-5

Antoinette MullerFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2014

Sri Lanka's Rangana Herath celebrates the wicket of New Zealand's captain Brendon McCullum during their ICC Twenty20 Cricket World Cup match in Chittagong, Bangladesh, Monday, March 31, 2014. (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad)
A.M. Ahad

In cricket, freakish performances come in many shapes and forms.

The performance most often comes in batsmen inventing new shots and completely obliterating bowlers. Sometimes it comes through fast bowlers hitting full tilt at 149km/h.

On Monday, freakish came in the the form of what the late Tony Greig would have referred to as a "little Sri Lankan." That little Sri Lankan is called Rangana Herath, and his bowling was a bundle of joy.

With New Zealand and Sri Lanka in a shootout for a semi-final spot, Herath took five for three (that is the right way around—five wickets for three runs) to help seal his team's progress. Those figures included a wicket maiden and a double-wicket maiden.

It came from nowhere: The portly spinner had not played a T20 international since the final of the 2012 edition, but he delivered a fantastic spell of left-arm spin to reiterate just how important slow bowlers are in this format.

With New Zealand winning the toss and electing to bowl first, Sri Lanka managed a low total of 119 all out. If they were going to defend it, they were going to need something special.

That something special first struck in the fourth over when Herath got rid of Brendon McCullum. It was a typical spinner's wicket, luring the attacking batsman out of his crease and having him stumped.

Spinners are transformed in T20s because batsmen are forced to attack. Even when they do not need to do so, batsmen like McCullum feel like attack is the best way out, and that leads to poor decisions, but it doesn't make the way Herath manipulated the flight of the ball any less spectacular.

His next two wickets of Ross Taylor and Jimmy Neesham were equally wonderful. Taylor was foxed by a flatter delivery and was trapped in front of his stumps. Neesham had his stumps taken out of the ground, and with New Zealand collapsing to 23-4 in just six overs, Sri Lanka were on their way to creating magic. 

Luke Ronchi was also beaten by the turn, and Trent Boult was beaten by his inability to bat. New Zealand were fairly and squarely beaten by Herath, with every single delivery he bowled. The Black Caps were all out for 60—almost as embarrassing as England's earlier performance against the Netherlands

Spinners do play a vital role in the format. Nine out of the top 10 bowlers in the official ICC rankings are spinners. On tracks which offer them just a little bit, they can become superheroes in the space of just a few hours. 

Herath is now 36 years old and has played just seven T20Is to date. In the last two T20Is, he has played—however far apart they might be—he has been superb. 

Cricket has recently showed that it can still be a game for old men with players such as Rahul Dravid, Jacques Kallis, Chris Rogers, Shane Warne, Brad Hodge and Sachin Tendulkar all defying the laws that sportsmen should be cast away as soon as they tip toward the wrong side of 30.

The cricket world will only hope that this was Herath's "coming of T20 age" spell and that there is much, much more to come from the little bundle of spinning joy.