Sri Lanka have successfully defended 200 runs to win a Test match on 3 occasions, a pretty special feat by the Lions. But what many would not know is that on all three occasions, a diminutive left arm spinner starred for the islanders.

Herath spins Sri Lanka to famous win in Abu Dhabi

Rangana Herath took his 9th ten-wicket haul in Test cricket and became the first spinner.

There can no longer be any doubt to the greatness of Rangana Herath. On Monday (2nd October) he became the 1st left arm spinner in the history of the sport to take 400 wickets in Test cricket, bowling Sri Lanka to an incredible 21 run win against Pakistan in the process.

Herath’s numbers speak volumes; he is the 4th fastest bowler to the 400-wicket mark, only the 5th spinner to achieve the feat…. the list goes on. But numbers don’t give us the full story. What Rangana Herath is, above all else, is a match winner.

Herath’s 5/3 against New Zealand in Chittagong and 7/48 against India in Galle are two performances that are etched in our memories as two of Herath’s greatest spells – here are 3 instances where the great man has helped Sri Lanka snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

4/15 vs Pakistan, Galle 2009 – Sri Lanka won by 50 runs

With Murali chasing the magical 800 and ‘mystery spinner’ Ajantha Mendis bamboozling opposition line-ups, Rangana Herath had dropped down the pecking order in Sri Lanka’s spin bowling department. Opportunities were few and far between and the left armer was left with no choice but to ply his trade in the cold backwaters of English League Cricket. Since his debut in 1999, Herath had played just 14 Tests when word came in that Murali had been injured on the eve of the home Test series against Pakistan. Herath was flown in from Manchester and played the 1st Test a mere 24 hours after landing in Sri Lanka. The game would prove to be the turning point of his meandering career.

Pakistan won the toss and in a surprise move decided to field first on a dry surface at the Galle International Cricket Stadium. A poor batting performance by the home team saw them scrape through to 292 on the back of a half century by Tharanga Paranavithana. At 5/2 and then 80/4, Pakistan were in some trouble in their 1st innings but a serene Mohammed Yousuf century saw the visitors manage a 50 run 1st innings lead.

Sri Lanka’s batting failed them yet again as Saeed Ajmal and Mohammed Amir combined to claim 6 wickets and bowl out the hosts for 217.

Read – Hard work paid off, says ‘over the moon’ Chandimal

Chasing a target of 168 against a team minus their most prolific wicket-taker Muttiah Muralitharan, Pakistan would have fancied their chances. Rangana Herath had other ideas. Pakistan had just 97 to get on that final day with 8 wickets in the bank but Herath picked up 4/15 to turn a tight game in Sri Lanka’s favour. Pakistan ended exactly 50 runs short of the target, giving Sri Lanka and in particular Herath, a memorable win.

7/48 vs India, Galle 2015 – Sri Lanka won by 63 runs

A game that will go down in history as one of the greatest come-from-behind, underdog wins in Test cricket, saw Herath humble an Indian batting line-up that was expected to pummel the Sri Lankan bowlers to all parts.

Things seemed to be going according to plan as the visitors managed a 192 run first innings lead after Sri Lanka had won the toss and opted to bat first. Galle had always been Herath’s favorite hunting ground, yet he went wicketless in the 1st innings as twin tons by Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli took India close to the 400-run mark.

A freakish innings of 162* by Dinesh Chandimal was the catalyst Sri Lanka had been hoping for and it gave Herath and Tharindu Kaushal a total to defend. At the conclusion of Sri Lanka’s 2nd innings, the home team was commended for the tremendous effort of overturning such a large deficit, but no one would have dared imagine India failing to chase down 176 with a batting line-up that boasted the likes of Kohli, Dhawan, KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane.

Read Also – Sri Lanka’s fairy tale in Galle: Starring a New Prince and an Aging King

What followed was a bit of Herath magic on what turned out to be a perfect day for Sri Lanka.  The fielders could do no wrong and Herath’s guile left the Indians in the dust as the hosts made the target of 176 seem like a 300+ chase. Dinesh Chandimal was named Man of the Match for his match turning 162* but Herath’s 7/48, against some of the best players of spin, will no doubt be remembered as one of the great spells of spin bowling.

6/43 vs Pakistan, Abu Dhabi 2017 – Sri Lanka won by 21 runs

Over the years, Pakistan has turned out to be one of Herath’s favourite opposition. His returns of 5/93 and 6/43 in the 1st Test in Abu Dhabi, his 9th 10 wicket haul in Tests was perhaps one of his favourites. Sri Lanka came into the series after an absolute hiding against India and a poor showing against Zimbabwe at home. With little to no expectations resting on their shoulders, the team surprised many with their solid performance with the bat in the 1st innings.

After conceding 419 in the 1st innings, Pakistan put their heads down for the long haul with the bat and midway through day 4, the game looked to be heading towards a tame draw. But, after a stellar 1st innings performance, the Sri Lankan batsmen went back to ways of old, as the top order crumbled to leave Pakistan on top at the end of day 4.

The visitors were eventually bowled out for 138, giving Pakistan a target of 136 for a win and an unassailable lead in the 2-match series.

Herath picked up the 1st wicket, that of Sami Aslam and did not look back as Sri Lanka went from disappointing to spectacular in the space of two sessions.

Tremendous win for Sri Lanka after a drought – Cricketry: Day 5

Tremendous win for Sri Lanka after a drought – Cricketry: Day 5…

The great man was nearly made to wait for the next game to claim his 400th wicket as Dilruwan Perera dismissed the last batsman, only to be told that the wicket taking delivery was a no ball. How fitting was it that Herath’s 400th was one that hit the batsman plumb in front, an LBW, his favourite form of dismissal.

With this performance, Herath confirmed himself as one of the greatest bowlers in the 4th innings of a game – a match winner, without a shadow of a doubt.