Stepping out of Muttiah Muralitharan’s shadow has allowed Rangana Herath to become one of the world’s premier spin bowlers, but now Sri Lanka want him to do something Murali never could – win a Test on Australian soil.
Just as Muralitharan was for so many years, Herath is Sri Lanka’s frontline bowler and carries with him the burden of expectation to lift a limp Lions attack which failed to rattle New Zealand in their two-Test series last month.
Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene sighed with a sense of relief when asked how important it had been for Herath to emerge as a world class bowler in his own right since the retirement of Test cricket’s leading wicket-taker in 2010.
“We thought it’d be tough for us to find a steady spinner after Murali, but he’s done the job,” Jayawardene said.
“He’s sorted a few headaches for us in the bowling department.”
Without a fearsome pace attack to protect him from Australia’s best batsman, Herath will be required to carry on his magnificent form of 2012 that has led to him taking 55 wickets at just 20.95.
Herath, who made his Test debut against Australia in Galle in 1999, has also enjoyed success against Michael Clarke’s men in recent times, troubling them during Australia’s three-Test tour in 2011.
In that series Herath claimed 16 wickets at 23 runs apiece, including Clarke’s prized scalp on three occasions in four innings.
Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene is aware of the pressure that will be put on Herath this summer, but said he had confidence in the left-arm finger spinner to bowl his side to their first victory on Australian soil.
“If he gets into that situation where he could win a Test match for us say in a fourth innings on a fourth or fifth day Test match wicket he will get the job done for you,” Jayawardene said.
“I’m quite happy to have him because we need that kind of experience to win a Test match here.”
But not unlike the cruel timing of Stuart MacGill’s Test career running concurrently with that of Shane Warne, Jayawardene warned that Herath’s best cricket might have wasted away behind Muralitharan, suggesting the 34-year-old is nearing the end of his career.
“We need to develop a few other guys around him because he’s getting to that time,” the skipper admitted.
“He probably has another three years left in him.”