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Rangana Herath to retire after first Test against England

Sri Lanka’s veteran left-arm spinner Rangana Herath will call it quits from the longest format of the game after the first Test against England at Galle – the same venue where he made his Test debut 19 years ago.

Herath is second on Sri Lanka’s list of leading wicket-takers – behind Muttiah Muralitharan, who has 800 wickets. Among currently active bowlers, he has the third-best tally – behind James Anderson [564] and Stuart Broad [433] – on the bowlers’ list. Herath is already the most successful left-arm spinner in Test cricket, and with 430 wickets to his name ahead of the final game, he has the chance to go up to the seventh spot in the list of leading Test wicket-takers – ahead of Richard Hadlee (431), Stuart Broad (432) and Kapil Dev (434).

Herath made his Test debut back in 1999 but was at the peak of his powers only after Sri Lanka’s premier spinner Muttiah Muralitharan called time on his career. Of the 92 Tests Herath has played so far, 22 of them came in the period between his debut and July 2010 – the time when Muralitharan retired. Herath picked 71 of his wickets in this phase at an unflattering bowling average of 37.88.

But the numbers improved exponentially once there was a Muralitharan-shaped void in Sri Lanka’s Test side. In eight years since the retirement, Herath has featured in 70 of the 81 Tests that Sri Lanka has played and has picked 359 wickets at 25.98. The left-arm spinner benefitted hugely from being a very accurate bowler without trying too many different things and came with the knack of bowling long spells to frustrate batsmen for hours together.

One of Herath’s earliest heroics following Muralitharan’s exit was inspiring Sri Lanka to their first-ever Test match victory in South Africa, in December 2011, by picking a match haul of 11 wickets. The form was carried forward into the new year and stayed with him for the entirety of the following 12 months as he emerged on top of the bowling charts in 2012 – with 60 Test wickets.

His finest hour as Sri Lanka’s leader of the bowling pack came in the Colombo Test against Pakistan in 2014, when he picked as many as nine wickets in the first innings and followed it up with five in the second for a match-haul of 14 for 184. Pakistan eventually went on to be the opposition against whom Herath had the most success – picking 230 of his wickets against them. This feat also included a two-Test victory over them in their backyard in UAE last year, where Herath once again starred with 16 wickets in four innings.

Even as Herath’s habit of consistently taking wickets from 2011 has carried on all the way through to 2018 – 352 wickets since then – fitness has been an area of concern. The 40-year-old missed the third Test against India at home last year with a bad back and has also had to grapple with knee injuries for a while now.

The Tests column in his career statistics will read 93 at the end of his career, seven short of the three-digit number that many aspire for. But, the late-blooming left-arm spinner was always being realistic about setting targets. In February this year, he played down the approaching milestone, by saying: “I am not looking at that far (100 Tests) to be honest. Having said that, it will be great if I can play 100 Tests, but the thing is when you set targets your commitments become too much.”

That the 100-Test milestone will remain unachieved is in no way a blight on a fabulous career accentuated by persistence and grit. Come November first week, Galle will prepare to send-off another crowd favourite in style – who, with one more wicket to his name, will become just the second bowler after Muralitharan to pick 100 Test wickets at the venue.

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