Angelo Mathews became the only ninth Sri Lanka cricketer to have scored a Test hundred on Indian soil with his fighting innings in Delhi under the pump. It wouldn’t have been a better occasion for Sri Lanka’s most experienced campaigner to achieve the milestone with his side being under humongous pressure.
Almost eight years back, in 2009, Mathews missed the milestone by a whisker when he was run out on 99 in Mumbai. But Mathews did get to the landmark on a much-needed occasion and along with skipper Dinesh Chandimal sailed the Sri Lankan ship out of choppy waters.
After drawing the first Test, Sri Lanka lost the second encounter at Nagpur and needed to come out hard in Delhi. It is their final chance to square the series and end on a high. But India were always going to be a tough nut to crack, after all, they are the top side in this format.
India came out all guns blazing and posted a massive total on the board in the first innings. By looking at the way things have fared for Sri Lanka so far, another defeat by an innings looked on the cards. Not many expected Sri Lanka to rise from the ashes and put up a fight, but riding on Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews’ ton they did spring a surprise.
The high pollution levels in Delhi and Sri Lankan players feeling uneasy due it have been hogging most of the headlines for last two days. But the cricket was still on despite many interruptions. India declared at for 536 for 7 and Sri Lanka had a mountain to climb against the dominant Indian attack.
Indian seamers struck early and another Sri Lankan collapse looked on the cards. Sri Lanka were precariously placed at 14 for 2 when Mathews walked out and had to weather the early storm. He built a 61-run partnership with Dilruwan Perera after which, Chandimal accounted for a crucial 181-run stand. Mathews took his time and fought the pumped Indian attack with confidence.
When Mathews hit Ishant Sharma for a boundary to reach the three-figure mark, it was his first ton in more than two years and after 37 innings. He celebrated the moment with joy and was elated by the performance.
“Very pleased. Big relief as well. I knew I was hitting the ball well in the nets. After the Calcutta Test, where I scored a 50. I was disappointed I couldn’t capitalise on it. I had the confidence in me as I was hitting the ball well in the nets. Once I had a start, I wanted to capitalise,” Mathews told the journalists after the game.
Mathews was extremely lucky in this innings, but did well to capitalise on the reprieves. Slip catching has been India’s problem for a while now and Mathews benefitted immensely from it. While batting on six, he was dropped by skipper Virat Kohli at second slip. He was lucky once again on 98 when Rohit Sharma’s butterfingers in the slip cordon gave him a solid chance to achieve the landmark. Interestingly, Ishant Sharma was the unlucky bowler on both the occasions.
“Little bit of luck as well. It all happens in the game and I am pleased to cross three figures. But then, I could have gone on to get a bigger one. But credit to Indian bowlers. They kept at it. We had to work extremely hard for runs,” Mathews added.
Mathews is undoubtedly the most experienced and best Sri Lankan Test batsman in the current line-up. He has been the spine of Sri Lanka’s batting, but the last couple of years has not been as fruitful as Mathews would have liked.
Mathews’ career graph has seen a drop in the recent times. Since the start of 2016, Mathews has only averaged 29.93 in 30 innings. So one does not need to speak about the importance of this century. He didn’t have a great run against India at home earlier and was unlucky to have missed out the series against Pakistan due to a hamstring injury.
Prior to this series, it was made clear that Sri Lanka were looking at Mathews the batsman and not the bowler. He last bowled back in 2016 against South Africa in Johannesburg and was having a terrible time with the bat this year, scoring 412 runs at 25.75. And this century is indeed a big relief.
It’s not a hidden fact that Sri Lankan cricket is going through a rough patch, and in need of something incredible to lift them up. If they are eyeing to rediscover their mojo as a unit, they certainly need more performances like this with the bat as well as with the ball. Mathews and Chandimal have done well in this game to put up a fight and bring their side back. With two days of play left in the game, it will be interesting to see how Sri Lanka fare as they desperately need a win to square the series. For now, they are trailing by 180 runs with a wicket in hand.