Quite a few Sri Lankan journalists representing several publications had toured Australia for the Test series down under in 2012-2013. During the New Year Test in Sydney our respective sports desks woke us up in the middle of the night, some unaware that Sydney was five and half hours ahead of Colombo. It was a bizarre call. We were informed about social media reports that were doing the rounds on a car crash in Sydney involving several Sri Lankan players and that Rangana Herath had succumbed to his injuries.
The office wanted verification on the report. It was 11:00 pm Colombo time but 3:30 am in Sydney. Calling the team management at that ungodly hour didn’t sound a good idea. Most journalists have a good rapport with Herath and out of curiosity we took a chance to find out whether his mobile was reachable. To our surprise, Herath answered the call and calmed the nerves.
‘Don’t panic, there’s no truth in the rumours,’ he told us.
That night all hell had broken loose in Colombo fearing the worst for Sri Lanka’s leading spinner. Herath had gone to bed early as he had lot of bowling to do the next day during the Test match. He had been woken up around 2:30 am by former team-mate Dilhara Fernando, who had called up to find out whether everything was fine. Herath had informed Fernando that there was no truth in the speculations and straightaway had called home to inform his family members not to believe in speculations. His wife and kid were with him in Sydney.
Fully aware that if he knocks off the phone and dozes off his friends and loved one would panic fearing the worst, he decided to stay up all night and answer every call that came his way to inform the concerned people that he was unharmed.
The next day he turned up at the SCG and bowled a lengthy spell. Now he recalls that freaky day in Sydney with a smile.
“It was 3 in the morning and someone was calling my roaming number. It was Dilhara. I wondered why is he calling at this time?. I answered the phone and the first thing he asked was, ‘Matchan, are you okay?’
“When I asked him what this was about, he said, ‘Just wanted to find out whether you were okay.’
“I asked him what’s going on and then he told that rumours were circulating in Colombo that I had been killed on the spot in a car crash.”
“I didn’t sleep from thereon. Answered every single call, told everyone that I am safe. I think I answered calls till 6 in the morning. Had I not answered those calls, people would have feared the worst.”
Sri Lanka may find another left-arm spinner to replace Herath, but it will be tough to find another person like him. The above story indicates the concern he had for his colleagues, friends and loved ones. His loyalty to the country and Sri Lankan cricket was remarkable.
The Galle Test will be his swansong. He will finish on 93 Tests, on par with Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva. Not bad company to be with. He could have easily gone onto complete 100 Test matches picking and chosing which tours he wanted to part of. But his concerns on the well-being of the team outnumbers all else and hence he has decided to throw in the towel. The emergence of Akila Dananjaya would have convinced him that the time was ripe to quit.
Throughout his career Herath has been a thorough gentleman. He has served nine Test captains with loyalty and there’s been never a confrontation with a senior colleague or the establishment. While SLC and players have clashed on several occasions in the last decade over payment modules and contract issues, Herath has conducted himself in an exemplary manner and often has intervened between the two parties to solve crisis amicably. His timely intervention has helped both parties to stop washing dirty linen in public and solve things in a friendly way.
Last week Herath completed SLC’s Level II coaching certificate and that is an indication what he intends to do in retirement. People like him are very much the need of the hour to guide the younger generation.