Angelo Mathews shows his class…..
Angelo Mathews was hurt. After having coach Chandika Hathurusingha rally around him for the ODI leadership at the start of 2018, he watched in dismay as the very same individual led the fight for the stripping of the captaincy and his ouster from the 50-over set-up after the Asia Cup. However, soon the all-rounder improved his fitness and returned to answer his critics with three half-centuries in four innings against England.
Upon reaching the milestone at Galle, he had looked towards the pavilion, pointed to his bat whilst making a yapping motion with his gloves – emphasizing that it was his bat that would do all the talking. At Pallekele too, Mathews celebrated the feat with a similar gesture and even though he was questioned about the situation, he held his composure and believed in his skills. “My stats will speak on behalf of me. They took a decision. I’m disappointed but I can’t control it.”
Also read: Angelo Mathews can’t save Sri Lanka alone
The most consistent ODI batter from Sri Lanka since 2017 had enough reasons to feel aggrieved but Mathews would have known that it was no time to dwell on the happenings of the past. After a disastrous series against England at home, the caravan would soon move to New Zealand – a venue where no Asian team has tasted success since 2009. With Kusal Mendis and Niroshan Dickella having played just a few matches in the country and with Roshen Silva and Dhananjaya de Silva playing in the seaming conditions in Kiwi-land for the very first time, Mathews apprehended that the task ahead was sterner and challenging.
It would also give him another opportunity to answer back, which is exactly what he did in the practice match heading into the first Test. After the Sri Lankans had been reduced to 104 for 9, Mathews combined with the number 11 batsman to hit 128 off 177 deliveries. Yes, it was against a local outfit, who lack the ferociousness of Trent Boult and Tim Southee, but it can in no way be discounted either. Having been outplayed in familiar conditions, staying tall to make a mark in the seaming tracks was no easy feat. The Mathews of 2014 was lurking right around the corner – a year in which he had amassed 1160 runs at an average of 77.33.
Mathews negates the threat of Boult-Southee
If Mathews would have learnt anything in the last few months, it would have been the art of fighting silently and driving home the point without creating a ruckus. In the first Test, this fighting spirit held him in good stead as he walked out to bat with the team score at a precarious 9 for 3, with Southee going bonkers at the bowling end. He had just dismissed Gunathilaka with a hint of an inswing, sent back Dhananjaya with a peach of a delivery – the kind of balls that swing away at the very end. Kusal Mendis too was undone by swing, and in walked in Mathews as the bowlers were breathing fire.
He struggled against the pace early on, as Boult cramped him up for room with his leg-stump line. However, as he got his eye in, the defence became stronger even as Southee grew in confidence. The angled balls with the late swing were flicked away, the sudden inswinger after three outswingers were kept away with a block and a length delivery was timed perfectly for Mathews’ first four. Finding the gaps constantly, playing the short ball with confidence across all parts and more importantly having a good control over his shots helped the visitors recover and they went into lunch without further loss of wickets.
It was the hour after tea where Sri Lanka really grabbed their chances. Boult was unable to find his rhythm – he was either too wide or too full – and later switched to bowling short, which was played off the hips by Mathews. He used his experience to negate the line of attack, pulled the length balls and played in the ‘V’. His straight drive down the ground as Colin de Grandhomme bowled a fullish delivery was straight out of the textbook and as he reached his fifty off a wide ball from Ajaz Patel, the hunger in his eyes could not be missed. It was an anti-climactic way to reach the milestone though – he just threw his hands and beat it towards backward point – considering that for large parts, Mathews had played confidently sans loose shots, but the importance of his knock, both for his team and for himself could not be ignored.
Even after he reached his fifty, he continued playing wristy strokes. He played the inswingers from Neil Wagner very late and deep into his crease and as he nonchalantly struck Boult for a six and four within 3 deliveries, it did seem as if he was squatting away his pent-up anger – the world-class bowlers here being his victim. He was eventually dismissed for 83 off a short ball by Southee which the batter tried to hook away, albeit unsuccessfully. From 9 for 3, he did well to take his side to 187 for 6, which soon became 275 for 9 by stumps, and though he did not point towards his bat or his glove this time around, there is no denying that his goal of letting the bat do all the talking is paying rich dividends.