Almost two months since taking part in Alastair Cook’s fairytale farewell from Test cricket, England captain Joe Root is hoping to stop Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath departing on similar terms.
Forty-year-old spinner Herath will retire after the series opener in Galle, already the 10th most prolific wicket-taker in the history of the game and with a chance to jump to seventh by the end of the week.
The sense of occasion is already building – with banners bearing his face lining the lamp posts on the drive to the stadium and celebratory posters hanging from the main gates.
England have their own recent experience of paying tribute to an exiting great, record run-scorer Cook bowling out at the Oval in September with an emotional century in his last innings and a handsome 118-run victory over India to toast.
Root’s job now is to make Herath’s 93rd and final Test a frustrating one.
“It would be nice if that was the case,” he said.
“We’re very aware of the skills he has and how he’ll try to get us out but it is about us playing the situation and the surface and not trying to look too much at it being his last Test.
“There will be a lot of noise around him and it being his last game, rightly so, but we’ve got to play 11 Sri Lankan players and the respect has to be there for the whole team.
“He has had a wonderful career for Sri Lanka and done some very special things for them over a long period of time.
“It’s no coincidence he has that amount of wickets. He’s a proven performer who is very good at exploiting surfaces, especially this one. So we’re going to have to play him well.
“But we’ve done our homework and we feel we’re in a good place.”
Regardless of the outcome, England have made plans to mark Herath’s contribution to the game, as the last active player to have made his debut in the 1990s.
“We would like to do something for him and make sure he gets the respect he deserves for a fantastic career over 19 years,” added Root.
The game not only represents a final chapter in Sri Lankan cricket, but a first for England as they line up for a Test match without Cook in their line-up for the first time in 12 years and 159 outings.
Rory Burns will debut in his place alongside Keaton Jennings and Root hopes the new opening pair can begin to write their own stories this winter.
“It will be my first Test match without playing with Alastair,” said Root.
“It’s a big loss in terms of experience and everything he brings to the squad and the team and of course we miss him.
“But it’s a great opportunity for someone else to make that spot their own, stand up and do something special for England.”
England’s Test preparations have been far from satisfactory – with one of their four days of warm-up action washed out and damp conditions for each of the training sessions in Galle.
Root, though, has left no room for complaining.
“There’s no real excuse for going into tomorrow undercooked. We’ve done some really good stuff up until now and that’ll have to be enough,” he said.
“We’ve got to be adaptable, it’s part and parcel of Test cricket and playing here this time of year.”News Now - Sport News