In a tournament dominated generally by spinners, Rangana Herath arrived at the perfect time for Sri Lanka on Monday night. The veteran left-arm spinner produced career-best figures as Sri Lanka stormed into the semifinal of the ICC World Twenty20 after crushing New Zealand by 59 runs in Chittagong. The Lankans, who won the Asia Cup on March 8 in Bangladesh, will play the winners of Pakistan and the West Indies in the first semifinal on Thursday.
The beauty of a teasing line and length proved to be Herath's success formula as New Zealand batsmen crashed one after the other playing horrible strokes. It was New Zealand's third biggest defeat in terms of runs in T20Is, next only to the 103-run defeat to Pakistan at Christchurch on December 30, 2010 and 61-run loss to the West Indies at Lauderhill on July 1, 2012. (Scorecard | Highlights | Points Table)
The Lankans seem to be peaking at the right time. Their 59-run win was their fourth biggest in terms of runs in T20Is and their biggest against New Zealand. More than the batsmen, the spin bowlers will gain enormous confidence from the win.
New Zealand's 60 is their lowest total in T20Is, eclipsing the 80 versus Pakistan at Christchurch on December 30, 2010. The Kiwis' previous lowest total against Sri Lanka was 81 at Lauderhill on May 23, 2010. (Match report)
The Lankans will actually thank their stars (and of course, Herath) that they won Monday's low-scoring contest. Sri Lanka (119) recorded their lowest total against New Zealand at the World Twenty20. It was Lanka's fourth lowest ever, the lowest being 87 versus Australia at Bridgetown on May 9, 2010. (Herath's magical fifer in pictures)
But it was 36-year-old Herath's day. His (five wickets for three runs) was his best bowling performance in T20Is - his first five-wicket haul, obliterating the three for 25 against Pakistan at Colombo on October 4, 2012.
Herath's outstanding figures are the third best in T20Is. The top two are six for eight by Ajantha Mendis versus Zimbabwe at Hambantota on September 18, 2012 and six for 16 by Mendis again against Australia at Pallekele on August 8, 2011. (Also read: Herath blew us away, says McCullum)
Stand-in skipper Lasith Malinga was happy to play second fiddle on Monday. "In the past Rangana had dismissed their top order batsmen," Malinga said after the match. "Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor struggle against him. I had hoped to get him into the attack as soon as possible. He was successful and my decision was too."
Herath, like most spinners happy to keep a low profile, attributed his success to "bowled the ball in the right place". He has done this with amazing diligence. Figures prove it. In Test cricket, his best figures are seven for 89. He has 17 five-wicket and nine four-wicket hauls. In addition to more than 200 Test wickets, Herath has 54 ODI wickets with one four-wicket haul. Interestingly, Herath has played almost equal number of Tests (51) and ODIs (55). Monday's match against the Kiwis was only his seventh T20 international.
Herath's economy rate of 0.85 -- the best by a bowler in T20Is (minimum three overs) - is testimony to the fact that it's class, ability and diligence that are the primary virtues of a slow bowler, irrespective of the format of the game.
(With inputs from Rajesh Kumar)