If the Asia Cup was the perfect advertisement for ODIs the just concluded Test match between England and Sri Lanka at Galle did a lot to boost the image of the game's traditional format: It was a keenly contested, fascinating encounter marked by the ups and downs that are so characteristic of Test matches.
Moreover, the cricket was of a high standard and nothing symbolized this more than the outstanding spin bowling of Graeme Swann and Rangana Herath notwithstanding the gallant hundreds compiled by Mahela Jayawardene and Jonathan Trott.
There is a paucity of quality spin bowlers in the game today. Moreover following the controversy surrounding the action of Saeed Ajmal it was refreshing to see two high class spin bowlers with smooth actions and sublime cricketing skills. Both Swann and Herath are clever bowlers and on a pitch even slightly helpful to bowlers they can spin a web around the best of batsmen as events at Galle underlined.
Swann is of course already acknowledged to be the best spin bowler in the game today. For pure, unadulterated bowling skills the 33-year-old Englishman is hard to match. Off spin has never been England's traditional strength even though ironically they have produced arguably the greatest purveyor of this subtle art in Jim (19 for 90) Laker.
The finest and most successful England bowlers have been those who hurtle them down at fearsome pace or swing the ball prodigiously. Even when it comes to spin bowling the best have been left-armers like Hedley Verity, Tony Lock and Derek Underwood. After Laker there have been off spinners like David Allen, Fred Titmus, Ray Illingworth and John Emburey but none of them are in the outstanding category.
Swann however has emerged as a match winner and I venture to forecast will be a true great when his career is over.
With a haul of 172 wickets from 40 Tests at an average of 28.5, Swann justifiably takes his place as the No 1 spin bowler. But more than the impressive figures it is the manner of his bowling that has caught the connoisseur's attention. For all their remarkable feats Muthiah Muralitharan and Harbhajan Singh - thanks to the controversy surrounding their actions - are not classical off spinners.
Swann belongs to the traditional and orthodox school. Right from his textbook action to the way he deceives the batsmen in the air and off the pitch he revives memories of the great off spinners of the past. His impeccable line and length, immense variety and the ability to keep his spirits up even in alien and adverse conditions has seen him make giant strides in this subtle art. Like all good spin bowlers he is getting better with age so it can be safely predicted that his best lies ahead.
Herath after a slow start has made giant strides in recent times. For long under the shadow of Muralitharan the 34-year-old left-arm spinner who has been around for a dozen years is now the Sri Lankan spin king and one of the best of his kind in the game. His latest match winning effort against England - his best career figures - did not come as a surprise for Herath has made rapid strides and displays sublime bowling skills.
He may not yet be a master of the art and craft of left-arm spin bowling but he is a willing learner and has come up through hard work, dedication and application.
A haul of 132 wickets from 36 matches at an average of 32.5 may appear to be modest returns for a specialist bowler but Herath's figures are improving with every match. One can be sure that his maiden ten wicket haul notched up at Galle will not be his last. What is even more impressive is that he has at least one five wicket haul against all the tough opponents - India, New Zealand, Pakistan, England, Australia and South Africa.
Like Swann, Herath too is from the traditional and orthodox school and has an easy action. He is equally at ease tossing them up or keeping things tight, is able to turn the ball appreciably and his adherence to the basics of line and length is admirable. In his case too it is not too hard to predict that his best is yet to come.