Veteran leads tourists to 21-run win over Pakistan, becoming first left-arm spinner to take 400 wickets in five-day format
Sri Lanka's Herath proves to be modern-day hero in Abu Dhabi cricket Test bereft of superstars
A Test that was prefaced with a lament on both sides over the absence of heroes of the recent past was settled when a modern master took his 400th Test wicket, and bowled Sri Lanka to a stunning victory in the process.
No Kumar Sangakkara, or Mahela Jayawardene? No Misbah-ul-Haq, or Younis Khan? No problem. Ranagana Herath is keeping the flame alive.
Greatness debates often overlook the left-arm wiles of Herath. No matter what label is put on it, his sleight of hand was the difference as Sri Lanka upset most informed expectations on a remarkable final day at the Zayed Cricket Stadium.
His dismissal of Mohammed Abbas, during a frenzied final session in Abu Dhabi, sent Pakistan to a 21-run loss. It was his sixth wicket in the innings, and 11th in the match.
It was also his eighth haul of five wickets or more in Tests against Pakistan. On the fourth evening, Herath had understatedly acknowledged that the reason Pakistan have provided more victims for him than any other side down the years is simply because he has played more against them than anyone else.
Still, though, positive memories of the past will no doubt have fuelled his belief that the Test could be won, when Sri Lanka were tasked with defending a meagre target of 136 in 63 overs in the fourth innings. They achieved it, somehow, with a little to spare.
Herath will be 40 in March, but Dinesh Chandimal, the Sri Lanka captain, hopes his senior spinner has plenty of Tests left in him.
“I just want him throughout my career,” joked Chandimal, whose first innings century went a long way to setting up the win for his side.
“I have no idea how long he is going to play, but I am sure he will do what he can for the team. Rangana is a team man. He is supportive to me and the players, with what he has learnt from cricket.
“Every young player goes to talk to him about his bowling and experiences. He is a wily old fox. He’s a good asset to the team.
“Looking to the future, yes, he is 39, a little bit old now, but he always tries to do his best.”
Day 1 report: Sri Lanka prove batting worth
Day 2 report: Chandimal shows leadership
Day 3 report: The calmness of Azhar Ali
Day 4 report: Pakistan spinners back
Analysis: Sarfraz will be his own man
The fact Sri Lanka head to Dubai for the second match - and their first floodlit Test - on Friday knowing they cannot lose the series is a remarkable effort on a number of counts.
Firstly, they arrived in the UAE in a certain state of disarray, after a woeful year that has seen their captaincy armband thrown around more liberally than the practice balls in fielding drills before the start of play.
Then factor in there were still 20 wickets left to fall with four sessions left in the match. If a result appeared out of the question at that point, it appeared all but certain once the Sri Lankans had crumbled to 138 all out in their second innings.
The fact it would be Sri Lanka who would be signing for a win at the end of the day will not have been universally foreseen. But Pakistan’s new-look side, under new captain Sarfraz Ahmed, wilted under the pressure.
Sri Lanka actually celebrated the win twice. They had the game sealed when Dilruwan Perera dismissed Yasir Shah.
However, a television review showed Perera had no part of his shoe behind the line.
Pakistan were 111-9 at the time, requiring another 25 to win. They managed just three more.
“After we got that wicket, we all celebrated as we had a win as a team, finally after a long time.
“Then when the third umpire said it was a no ball, everyone was upset, especially Dilruwan. Rangana and I went to him and told him, ‘Don’t worry, there will be more runs, just one ball, and bowl the right areas’.”
All it did, as it turned out, was delay both the inevitable defeat for Pakistan, as well as Herath becoming the first left-arm spinner to take 400 wickets in Tests.
“I am really proud of this achievement,” Herath said.