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Members of the Sri Lanka cricket team celebrate after beating Australia 3-0 in the Test series which concluded at SSC

At the age of 38, most international cricketing pros would be on their way out or told it’s time to hang up their bats or spend more time with their families.  But Sri Lankan left-arm spin bowler Rangana Herath is not the kind of rolly-poly bloke who would throw in the towel or hang up his balls.

To cap it all, he stood on a makeshift podium at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground in Colombo on a hot Wednesday afternoon to rapturous cheers from the crowd, praise from his captain Angelo Mathews and pin-drop silence from the Australian team who lost a three-match series 3-0 unable to find a formula to counter him.

Herath at the beginning of his up-and-down career was not the kind of cricketer or bowler who would turn heads or raise questions. Today, he is on course like a bounty hunter and without him a Sri Lanka team on home soil would be all at sea minus the ammunition to subdue visiting sides that must now see the island as a dreadful place to play cricket.
Herath has made Sri Lanka that way and will be acknowledged by Mathews as the leader of a spinning pack, the result of a blessing in disguise when nearly all the front-line fast bowlers were unavailable due to nagging injuries.

“Bowlers need an extension to the chances they get at the start (of their careers) and only then can you gauge them if they are to be groomed for the future,” said Herath who used to play second fiddle to the headline-grabbing Muttiah Muralitharan.

There were even times when Herath had few friends in the team and kept to himself, sometimes sitting for dinner all by himself after bowling a mere ten or twelve overs with a solitary wicket or nothing at all.

But, the unassuming Herath refuses to be carried away by his current status and fame and it would be hard to fathom that the south-paw bowler will change his lifestyle. He even showed he could carry his team single-handed on his shoulders as he played with an injury.

“There are times that you need to do things under difficult situations,” he said. “I always do (bowl) the things that I always do. I keep it simple.”

Herath though is no simple man to the Australians who crumbled under the little man’s mighty deeds and they’ll be happy to hear that he will not be around the next time they tour the fiery Indian-ocean nation.

“He (Herath) changes his pace and angles beautifully when he bowls,” was how Australia’s captain Steven Smith summed up Herath’s 28 scalps in the series of which 13 came at the SSC ground.

Smith and his team can breathe a sigh of relief that Herath has already called it quits in one-day limited overs cricket as they look to salvage pride in a five-match series starting on Sunday in Colombo.

Australia, however, would have another bundle of dynamite to contain in the form of 21-year-old batsman Kusal Mendis who has already received the thumbs up from Mathews as being the player responsible for the initial turnaround when he smashed a bludgeoning 176 in the first match in Pallekele.

Hailing from the bustling coastal town of Moratuwa, Mendis is expected to be the toast of the young crop and touted as the next Aravinda de Silva who left a lasting impression, among other achievements, when he cracked a match-winning hundred in the World Cup final in 1996.

Sri Lanka’s match winner Rangana Herath
Sri Lanka’s match winner Rangana Herath