Galle: Rangana Herath, the most successful left-arm spinner in history, will be looking to bring down the curtain on his long and glittering Test career with some big name England scalps in Galle this week.
Sri Lanka’s Herath, aged 40, has taken five-wicket hauls against all the Test nations during his 19-year career and he stands 10th on the all-time bowlers’ list with 430 dismissals.
Picturesque Galle, which hosts the first match of the three-Test series beginning Tuesday, has always been a special venue for the spin warhorse.
He made his international debut at there against Australia in 1999, rejuvenated his career at the age of 31 by taking five wickets in Galle against Pakistan and, in 2016, claimed a hat-trick at the ground against the same nation.
Now Herath, the last active Test player to have made his debut in the 1990s, needs just one more scalp to reach 100 wickets at his favourite hunting ground.
While injuries have limited recent appearances, he will be making one last effort to join Sri Lankan spin legend Muttiah Muralitharan (Galle, Kandy and SSC Colombo) and England paceman James Anderson (Lord’s) as the only bowlers to register a century of Test victims on the same ground.
England, who will be without their retired opening stalwart Alistair Cook for the first time since March 2006, know they have to resist Herath’s threat if they want to secure a winning start on their quest for an elusive away series win.
“I’ve watched little bits on YouTube and I just like everything about what he does, his action and how easy it looks,” said England’s left-arm spinner Jack Leach.
“The batter’s mentality is to want to score boundaries so you have to be clever with that.”
Leach, who made his debut for England against New Zealand in March but was then sidelined with a broken thumb, said he was learning from watching Herath.
“There’s a lot of good things in there that are worth looking at for me and are definitely very helpful,” Leach said.
The 27-year-old Leach bowled 13 tidy overs and took one wicket in his team’s second warm-up match at the weekend, which was cut short by rain like many of England’s games on this tour.
Joe Root’s side will be desperate to rectify their dismal recent away record when the series begins.
England outplayed India 4-1 at home this year, but have won just once on their travels - in South Africa almost three years ago - since their famous 2012 victory in India.
Keaton Jennings is expected to open alongside Rory Burns, who is set for his Test debut as Cook’s replacement.
With wicketkeeper-batsman Johnny Bairstow unlikely to be fit, Jos Buttler or uncapped Ben Foakes will be behind the stumps.
“I think there are (places to play for) definitely,” England all-rounder Moeen Ali said, adding that the balance of the bowling attack would be crucial.
“Are we going to play three spinners? Two spinners? What seamers are going to play? Do you need pace or control? That’s for the coach and captain to decide,” he said.
Sri Lanka, led by Dinesh Chandimal, will be looking for redemption against England after losing the one-day series 3-1 and the lone Twenty20 International.