So long the understudy, Rangana Herath reaffirmed his status as Sri Lanka’s leading man on Saturday, becoming the most successful left-arm spinner in the history of the game.
It was a remarkable feat, Herath going past New Zealand’s Daniel Vettori with figures of 6-59 that ripped through Bangladesh’s middle order and led Sri Lanka to victory in the first Test.
As so often is the case with Herath, the stats were incredible, his reaction subdued and the whole scenario played out with an air of predictability and only a hint of celebration befitting the landmark.
A small crowd showed their appreciation, the TV cameras capturing chants in his honour, while Herath’s team-mates were jubilant for their talisman and stand-in captain, all too aware of his importance to the team, even if others aren’t as forthcoming in acknowledging as much.
It was a 29th five-wicket haul for Herath as he ended the match on 366 Test wickets, a quite remarkable return for a man who for so long was always the bridesmaid.
Since making his Test debut in 1999, Herath spent 11 years in the enormous shadow of Muttiah Muralitharan, either resigned to a role as squad player or the man tasked with bowling long, demanding spells aimed at setting opponents up for master in chief, Murali.
But since Murali’s last Test in 2010, Herath has shouldered the wicket-taking responsibility for Sri Lanka and has become their go-to man with the ball.
He played just 22 Tests from 1999-2010, but since then has featured in 57 and taken 295 of his Test wickets.
Not only that, those wickets since Murali departed the scene have come at an average of 25.58 and a strike-rate of 56.7.
Those are sensational returns only belied by Herath’s unassuming personality, his trot to the wicket and calm ability to bowl with unerring accuracy and get the best out of conditions an art in itself but one that so often is taken for granted or simply overlooked.
Herath does not have the dramatic, unorthodox approach to the wicket like Murali and was denied a volume of Tests to rival his peers’ record Test wicket-haul but his significance in the Sri Lanka team has been unparalleled over the past seven years.
Murali’s shoes were bigger than anyone’s to fill, yet in Herath the transition of power was as matter of fact as his ability to take wickets at will.
What it leaves is Sri Lanka once again in a quandary over the replacement of their premier spinner and once Herath finally calls it a day, they will be left in just as much of a pickle over naming an heir to the throne.
It shows just how integral Herath has been to the Sri Lanka side in the post-Muralitharan era that he will be as sorely missed as the highest Test wicket-taker of all-time.
Eventually, Herath will most likely depart the cricketing scene with the same grace as Muralitharan, but will come by no means elicit the same response in people that his former team-mate did.
But now, like Muralitharan, Herath has etched his name in the record books and there is no doubting his status as one of the game’s greatest spinners even if he remains one of the most underrated figures in the history of the sport.