“Not having Mathews perform his duties as a bowler is hurting Sri Lanka a bit and his services could have come in handy at Galle. It was a good wicket and there was something in it for the seamers as well as the spinners”
Sri Lanka went down by a massive 211 runs in the first Test at Galle, handing England their first-ever victory at the venue. This was certainly not the farewell Sri Lanka wanted to give Rangana Herath, who played his final Test for his nation. Sri Lanka were clearly outplayed and England deserved to walk away victors. Their batting was under-par, bowling not as deadly as everyone expected and also dropped a few catches in the match, which cost Sri Lanka dearly.
Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews are the two senior pros in the side and Sri Lanka would have looked to them to get them out of trouble, but could not. Mathews struck a twin fifties in the match, but none of his teammates provided any sort of support. Mathews over the last year and a half has turned himself into a batsman, due to his history of hamstring injuries.
It has been a roller-coaster one year or so for Mathews. Last June, he led Sri Lanka to a win against India in the Champions Trophy, but since then, he narrowly beat Zimbabwe in the one-off Test and then lost the ODI series at home after which he resigned. Mathews termed that as one of the lowest points of his career. Despite this, he was still a key player for Sri Lanka. With lack of leaders within the team, he was re-appointed as captain just ahead of the Tri-Nation ODI series in Bangladesh. However, after losing the first match, co-incidentally again to Zimbabwe, Matthews suffered an injury and was ruled out of the series, in which the Lankans eventually won by beating the hosts in the final.
He then returned in the home ODI series against South Africa, which the hosts lost 2-3. He led Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup, but losses to Bangladesh and Afghanistan saw him once again get sacked as captain. To add to it, he was also dropped from the limited-overs series against England. Taking in all this will surely not be easy, even for an experienced cricketer like Mathews.
The fact of the matter however still remains that Sri Lanka are still missing the bowler in Mathews, especially in Tests. He has not bowled in Tests since July last year, but bowled in the home and away against India in the ODIs and has been bowling on and off in T20Is as well. But when it comes to Tests, a few overs, maybe 6 or 7 a day or even 4 to 5 overs a session would certainly help Sri Lanka, especially on home conditions.
At Galle, Suranga Lakmal was the lone seamer for Sri Lanka and England had to face three specialist spin bowlers and at times the part-time off-spinner Dhananjaya de Silva. England would have been prepared to be bombarded with spinners and would have taken steps and tried to figure out ways to negotiate them. They did that successfully and walked away with a massive win. England had James Anderson and Sam Curran as their two frontline quicks. They also had Ben Stokes – their batting all-rounder who chipped in with the wicket of Dhananjaya de Silva in the second innings.
Especially on the first day, there was a bit of swing on offer and Lakmal made the best use of it, picking up two quick wickets. Had Mathews bowled in tandem with him in those conditions, he too could have tasted success. Mathews is by no stretch of imagination express pace, but can get the ball to move around enough to cause the batsmen some trouble. Playing three front-line spinners is what everyone expected Sri Lanka would play – England too played with the same combination.
But England had that extra pacer. The pacers managed just 3 wickets in the entire Test between them – As many as Lakmal – but there were a lot of times when England were batting one felt they were short of one more fast bowler. Joe Root used his quicks well, giving them short bursts and bowling them from one end, while a spinner bowls at the other. But as the ball got older and older, the three spinners took full control.
Mathews could walk into any team in the world solely as a batsman, but the Sri Lankan team management should try their best to ensure that he regains full fitness at the earliest – Fit enough to bowl at least 15-20 overs in a Test. That will give Sri Lankan bowling a bit more depth. Rather than being one-dimensional. Taking wickets has not been Mathews’ strength, but he can certainly bowl a tight spell, building pressure and frustrate the batsmen to the extent that they eventually give their wickets away. In Tests and ODIs, especially it is important to bowl in partnerships. You cannot have one bowler picking up wickets, while at the other end, another bowler leak runs. Controlling the runs, will build the pressure on the batsmen and could eventually lead to a wicket or two.
Not having Mathews perform his duties as a bowler is hurting Sri Lanka a bit and his services could have come in handy at Galle. It was a good wicket and there was something in it for the seamers as well as the spinners.
While England had the option of going to their three seamers just in case the spinners could not do the job, Sri Lanka had just the one. They have even in the past heavily depended on the spinners at home to pick up all 20 wickets and it has worked most of the times. But they do not seem to be having a Plan B. That was perhaps the difference between the sides in Galle.