Stop insulting Herath!


by Rex Clementine

We Sri Lankans have the bad habit of running down our own champion sportsmen.

Our cricket administrators ruined things for Ranjan Madugalle by withdrawing his name from the list of Match Referees in 2001. The ICC not only no-balled our board’s decision but went on to confirm Madugalle as the Chief Match Referee ahead of Clive Lloyd, Mike Procter and Gundappa Vishwanath, some of the legends of the great game.

Our umpires cried foul when Kumar Dharmasena was tasked with officiating in international games. Two years later he not only entered the ICC’s Elite Panel of Umpires but went on to claim the prestigious ICC Umpire of the Year award ending the domination of Aleem Dar and Simon Taufel.

Last year officials told Kumar Sangakkara to drive all the way up to Matara for a practice match. The following morning Sanga was told that he wasn’t eligible to play the game as he hadn’t signed a national contract.

In 2006, Sanath Jayasuriya was left stranded at Heathrow as officials didn’t make arrangements to pick him up. One year later, another Sri Lankan captain, Marvan Atapattu, went through the entire World Cup series carrying water without being allowed to play a single game. He vented his anger by calling the selectors ‘puppets headed by a joker’.

Roshan Mahanama was made to ‘retire hurt’ and Chandika Haturusinghe to go in search of greener pastures. Duleep Mendis, the efficient CEO, was sent on gardening leave. We Sri Lankans also ousted Ana Punchihewa from office two days after his visionary thinking enabled us to bask in World Cup glory in 1996.

Rangana Herath, the intrepid left-arm spinner, is the latest addition to the list of victims.

There was something bizarre during the last World T-20 two years ago. Sri Lanka’s semi-final against Pakistan was slipping away. The home team had only scored 139 runs and Pakistan were well on course. The 15th over started with Pakistan needing 49 runs in 36 balls with six wickets in hand. Herath was the man called up to do the tough job. He struck immediately dismissing a well set Mohammad Hafeez and in the next ball sent Shahid Afridi back to the pavilion. Herath just conceded one run in that over. The game turned completely in Sri Lanka’s favour.

Herath picked up three for 25 in four overs in that game. He should have been an automatic choice for the finals three days later against West Indies, but he was mysteriously left out. Sri Lanka suffered an embarrassing defeat in the finals.

That happened to be his last T-20 International for two years until he played the game against New Zealand on Monday.

Form had never deserted him. He featured regularly in Sri Lanka’s T-20 squads, but could not make it to the final eleven. The selectors kept telling us that he had been ‘rested’. The word ‘rested’ means two things. It means that the selectors are worried that the player has been playing too much of cricket and secondly that his place in the side is assured. In that case, in this World T-20, Herath should have played from the very first game. But, for some reason, that was not to be. All of a sudden Ajantha Mendis and Sachithra Senanayake have become selectors’ favourites.

Most fans couldn’t understand why Sri Lanka’s spin attack was looking one dimensional – heavy on off-spin. Herath’s left-arm spin adds variation to the attack and his experience comes in handy in crunch situations.

Herath finally got his break with Sri Lanka facing elimination in the first round. A target of 120 would have been a cakewalk to the strong New Zealand batting line-up. But, from the moment he took charge, the opposition began to crack under pressure.

Herath nicely set up New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum. He created the pressure with four dot balls and sensed that the free scoring McCullum would give him the charge off the final delivery of an over which was yet to concede a run. Herath bowled a little wide, McCullum took the bait and was stumped.

Again in his next over, Herath kept Ross Taylor quiet for four deliveries and in the process was unlucky as a leg before wicket shout was not upheld. The fifth delivery was quicker and flatter. Taylor played forward, but failed to cover the line and was ruled leg before wicket. Jimmy Nesham walked in with fielders around the bat, unusual scenario in a T-20 and lasted just one ball as he was smartly cleaned up. New Zealand were sliding. Herath by this stage had bowled two overs and was yet to concede a run and bagged three wickets.

Fittingly, he removed last man Trent Boult, who was caught at slip by Mahela Jayawardene. Sri Lanka not only won with a big margin but gained confidence. They know they are capable of defending smaller totals with players like Hearth in the fight.

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