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By Bharath Ramraj
In the past, there have been major question marks lingering over Angelo Mathews leading Sri Lanka’s Test squad, as he has struggled to hit noteworthy crusts in the longer format of the game. However, by launching a rescue mission for Sri Lanka in both the innings against Pakistan at Abu Dhabi in the first Test, he has made his detractors swallow the bitter-pill.
It seemed like Pakistan was going to romp home with a convincing win. But Mathews showed guts and spunk to take them to safety. He stonewalled Pakistan’s deadly threat of Saeed Ajmal by using his reach to come well forward. On a slow track lacking the bite, he also went back to play Ajmal’s doosra by using the depth of the crease.
If the first innings of 91 from Mathews gave an inkling that he can lead Sri Lanka from the front then his herculean effort in the second innings proved that his first innings knock was no fluke. The pitch was flat and once the initial movement disappeared, it became easy for batting. There were occasions when Mathews looked unconvincing at the crease, especially against the left-arm seamer, Junaid Khan. Nevertheless, it was still a remarkable turnaround engineered by the Sri Lankan all-rounder scoring 157 not out.
It isn’t like Mathews has only come good in the shorter versions of the game. At Hobart, on a dicey track in 2012-13 series he held his own against a rampaging Australian attack generating prodigious reverse swing and getting the ball to move off those cracks that had developed during that Test. At Colombo’s P Sara Oval last year, Mathews was the only batsman who stood tall in Sri Lanka’s first innings against New Zealand’s swing-kings — Trent Boult and Tim Southee, respectively. But that career defining innings was missing from his resume which came at Abu Dhabi against Pakistan.
Mathews still has a long way to go as a Test cricketer. His bowling is perhaps short of being a frontline Test match seamer. He can at best do a holding job with the red-cherry. So, it puts more pressure on him to contribute with the willow all the time. Despite being an astute captain, he has a task on his hands, as he is leading a Sri Lankan set-up that is going through a transitional phase and struggling to find world class Test cricketers. The pace bowling stocks, especially isn’t good enough. Interesting times ahead for Angelo Mathews and his team!
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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