Mathews overcomes the finisher's jinx
Pressing forward to a length ball from Shakib Al Hasan, Angelo Mathews bunted the ball into the off side and ran, ran like he'd just lit the fuse of a firecracker. Thisara Perera, sprinting to the batsman's end, may well have feared the cricketing equivalent of a loud explosion in his face. Perera had barely got halfway down the pitch when Arafat Sunny, running in from point, was poised over the ball, shaping for an underarm flick to the keeper.
Sunny failed to pick up the ball, and Perera glanced anxiously at the undisturbed stumps as he jogged into the crease. At the other end, Mathews barely acknowledged the fact that he'd reached 50. He probably knew, though. He probably knew as soon as he'd set off for that suicidal single. It was harebrained, it put his partner at risk, but it showed, perhaps, how much he had wanted it.
Mathews had walked in with Sri Lanka 47 for 4, chasing 205. They were now 164 for 6, needing 41 runs from 47 balls. At this point, Mathews would have wanted desperately to remain at the crease till the end. All batsmen do, of course, but Mathews had more reason than most to really, really want it.
Before this match, Mathews had scored six half-centuries in run-chases. He had remained not out in three of those innings. All three of those unbeaten half-centuries had taken Sri Lanka to famous victories.
Back in the 2010-11 season, at the MCG, Mathews and Lasith Malinga came together with Sri Lanka 107 for 8 chasing 240. They put on 132, and Mathews was unbeaten on 77 when Sri Lanka sneaked to a one-wicket win.
In June 2012, Mathews had remained not out on a 76-ball 80 as Sri Lanka sneaked to a two-wicket win over Pakistan in Colombo, with Mathews slapping the winning four over point with two balls remaining. Five months later, Sri Lanka had to chase a revised target of 197 in 33 overs against New Zealand in Pallekele. They had romped home with 11 balls remaining and seven wickets in hand, with Mathews unbeaten on a 47-ball 54.
Mathews, however, has also been unfortunate enough to score three half-centuries in Sri Lankan defeats. In Hobart last year, he was dismissed for 67 when Sri Lanka needed 61 from 36 balls; they went on to lose by 32 runs. Against England in 2011, Sri Lanka needed 17 from 12 balls when he miscued a Jade Dernbach slower ball high above Manchester. Mathews was out for a 64-ball 62. Dernbach dismissed Malinga next ball to win the game and the series for England.
Most heartbreaking of all, though, was Perth, two years ago. Then, Sri Lanka needed six runs from two balls when Mathews was last man out, caught at long-on. With wickets falling all around him, his innings of 64 had kept Sri Lanka in the hunt all the way.
Mathews' mixed fortunes with half-centuries in chases is only one aspect of a broadly disappointing second-innings record. When Sri Lanka bat first, Mathews averages just over 40. Of late, he's become an expert at applying the finishing touches to Sri Lanka's first-innings totals.
In his last 13 innings when Sri Lanka have batted first, Mathews has made five half-centuries. In that sample, he's been not out six times on 40-plus scores. In five of those six innings, he's ended up with a strike rate of over 100. Those are the numbers of a top-class number six. While chasing, however, Mathews' average drops to just over 30. He's got most of the ingredients a world-class finisher needs, but he's still working his way towards becoming one.
Now, he had a chance to improve that record. He had come in with Sri Lanka in trouble, and the team suffered another setback when they lost Lahiru Thirimanne to find themselves 75 for 5. Conditions weren't easy to bat in either. Ziaur Rahman was in the middle of a testing spell, getting the odd ball to bounce awkwardly from just back of a length.
One of these deliveries had consumed Ashan Priyanjan and Mathews was a touch lucky to survive another, his edge screaming past the right glove of a diving Anamul Haque. Whether it was plain old conservative captaincy or because of Mathews' reputation, Mushfiqur Rahim, had declined to give Ziaur a slip despite how often he was threatening to create that precise sort of chance and despite the fact that Sri Lanka were 80 for 5.
Mathews ground on, most of his runs coming through a steady drip of leg-side singles against the spinners. Occasionally, Sunny dropped short, and he punched those balls to the off-side sweeper. Once, out of the blue, he stepped out to Ziaur and smashed him over long-off for six. But it was an otherwise subdued Mathews at the crease. The body language of Bangladesh's fielders, though, deflated steadily with each over he spent there, and Chaturanga de Silva made things worse for them with a 52-ball 44.
Soon after reaching his fifty, Mathews gave Bangladesh a half-chance, edging Mahmudullah past the keeper. His heart rate would have gone up a little more when Perera ran himself out with Sri Lanka needing 12 from 18 balls.
But Mathews had done the hard yards, and he'd brought Sri Lanka too close to falter. When he swatted Sunny across the line to bring up the winning boundary, Mathews restricted his celebrations to a quiet hug with Sachithra Senanayake. His body language didn't show it, but just being there at that moment must have meant a lot to him.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo