Dead man who walked never lost his soul | Sunday Observer

Dead man who walked never lost his soul

Rangana Herath with his wife Senani and sons at his farewell
Rangana Herath with his wife Senani and sons at his farewell

Somewhere in the suburbs of the Australian city of Sydney telephones rang well into the early hours of the morning waking up two Sri Lankan journalists who were deep in slumber before the fourth day’s play of the third and final cricket Test.

“Has Rangana Herath died in a car crash? Please check and file the report we have only a few minutes before the deadline expires. This is the story doing the rounds”, a sports editor in Sri Lanka told the reporter covering the tour. It was a few minutes after 10 pm Sri Lanka time.

The reporter who knew the conduct of each and every player on tour merely brushed off the call for it was unthinkable to imagine Rangana Herath on a late night out, involved in a brawl and then speeding back to his hotel room to sneak in unnoticed that would cause such a tragedy.

Herath was very much to himself in his hotel room asleep in preparation for the following day’s play and having to go out and bat as Sri Lanka struggled to take a slender lead over Australia in the second innings.

“I don’t know how this all originated and lucky for me my wife was also touring and I assured her nothing was wrong”, Herath told journalists on the sidelines before the start of the fourth day’s play.

When he walked out to bat on that sunny Sydney morning, a reporter working for the Australian Press summed up Herath’s appearance. “Dead man walking”, he exclaimed.

Indeed Herath walked, talked and ran nearly all the cricketing venues in the world and never had anything on a platter. He earned and treasured every wicket like most village boys who make their way to the city and was always a pleasant sight to the Media off the field unlike some of his team-mates at the time who wanted journalists to write the best things about them and shape up their shortcomings.

Herath was unlike any of them. He did not storm the playing fields with any scientific achievement and had nothing to boast of. He made honesty and simple truth a hallmark of his 20-year career. Many of the pundits did not care two hoots about him or from where he came or the school that produced and brought out the bowler in him. That honour will always stand with Maliyadeva College in Kurunegala where he ended up after a primary education at a missionary school, St. Bernadette’s College some miles away.

When he walked out to bowl for the last time after his team bus drove through the main street of Galle that was spruced up with portraits of him, it marked a solemn moment as two flags from his Maliyadeva College fluttered in the sea breeze. Like a blessing the poring rains on the previous day had kept away, a tribute to a man who never lost his human touch and never made life difficult for his mates other than rival batsmen on the field.

There were times he would grab a five wicket haul and then walk into a simple restaurant to pick up his dinner unnoticed at a time the attention was on Muttiah Muralideran. But Herath epitomized the perfect do-it-your-way character and knew that hard work and commitment had no substitutes.

He was the kind of player who could have bowled and bowled until the cows came home and would always hide the frustration of going wicket-less in a session or even a day and then leap into a bust-up celebration to signal his return into the match. For 20 years Herath had been on the road and earned every dollar and penny that he deserved.

When he walked off the field for the last time he was one of the preciously few Sri Lankans who were able to look back and say “Not Guilty”. He was not the dead man walking to his gas chamber. He walked out a gentleman who stretched himself to the fullest, gave Sri Lanka many wins and reached a kind of immortality as the highest wicket-taking left arm spin bowler who was both a professional icon and a fine human being.

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