Sri Lanka face off India in a three-match Test series, starting November 16 and will be eyeing to settle the scores with current Test champions. Sri Lanka had a tough time on home soil couple against the same opponent in July-September and will be undoubtedly looking to seek revenge. After a torrid run in whites, Sri Lanka gained momentum and did well in UAE against Pakistan. They whitewashed Pakistan in a two-match series on an away venue, which is rare.
Sri Lanka are oozing with confidence and one can expect them to do well this time. Although they had a tough time in the shorter formats against Pakistan, but that’s a different ball game altogether. Also, their batting did well in the warm-up game against Board President’s XI and will garner immense confidence with that outing. But India will certainly be a tough nut to crack and pose the challenge of a different kind.
It’s very important to have a well-balanced side in the line-up and cannot afford to tinker with the balance at this level. One does not need to speak about the balance an all-rounder brings to the table, especially in Test format. He provides solid stability, depth and makes room for an extra batsman or a bowler. His presence is no less than gold for any side.
Angelo Mathews has been a vital cog in Sri Lanka’s line-up and has done well over the years. He is a solid middle-order batsman and bowls right-arm medium pace. An injury ruled him out of the Pakistan series but did well to get his rhythm back in the warm-up game. His return to the Sri Lankan side has certainly added fire but is unlikely to bowl in the entire series. Time and again Mathews’s body has defeated him and every time he runs into bowl, every stride he takes, his well-wishers wince in pain fearing another breakdown.
As many as 14 Sri Lankan bowlers bowled in the warm-up game. Although Mathews did roll his arm in that game, but the Sri Lankan bowling coach has made it quite clear that he won’t be putting in the hard yards in the Test match, which will indeed disrupt the team balance.
Also, the last time Mathews bowled in a Test match was against South Africa in Johannesburg 10 months ago, where he picked 2 for 52. “Angelo has not bowled in a Test series for a while. I don’t think he will bowl. H will come in as a batsman. We take him as a white ball bowler,” said Sri Lanka bowling coach Rumesh Ratnayake after the conclusion of the warm-up game.
Against Pakistan, where Sri Lanka did register a whitewash, they opted for the five-bowler strategy, which worked wonders for the side. Sri Lanka need a genuine all-rounder in the line-up, otherwise, they will have to sacrifice a batsman or a bowler, which makes all the difference against a top side like India. Sri Lanka can’t afford to step a foot wrong as India have developed into a dominant force across formats, especially at home.
Sri Lankan skipper Dinesh Chandimal said, “Against Pakistan, we played six batters and five bowlers that worked really well, especially in the heat it was never easy to play four bowlers and win a game. So I think that is the combination we are looking at, but anyway, if you are playing against India they got some really good bowlers, so we need to think about that all-rounder position. We will look at the pitch and come up with our plans.”
Although Mathews doesn’t have impressive numbers with the ball in whites, but every bowler in the side can’t be a wicket-taking one. Each bowler has a different role to play in the line-up. Mathews has bowled handy overs in the middle and shared the workload along with picking key wickets. In the sub-continent, he is the best fit for a third seamer and can bowl marathon spells further providing rest to the frontline bowlers.
It would be cruel to blame Mathews if he doesn’t bowl in the series, he’s tried to contribute with the ball despite persistent injuries, but his value as the most experienced batsman in the Sri Lankan line-up cannot be forgotten. In a sense, it is better for Sri Lanka to have him in the side as a batsman rather than not having him at all. It will be interesting to see the kind of combination Sri Lanka opt for and which players get a go in the first Test. The opening Test kick starts on November 16 at Eden Gardens, Kolkata.