Sri Lanka in Australia 2012-13 December 3, 2012

In-form Angelo Mathews key in Australia

Angelo Mathews has succeeded in Australia, and he's been Sri Lanka's best batsmen in the New Zealand Tests. He will be a key player on the upcoming tour

Two years ago at the MCG, Angelo Mathews was the architect of one of Sri Lanka's most memorable victories. Chasing 240 to win in an ODI, Sri Lanka were cruising with their two most experienced hands at the wheel at 73 for 2, before they quickly ran aground on Xavier Doherty's debutant spin.

It is a match almost every Sri Lankan supporter remembers vividly, and no retelling of that evening is incomplete without a confession of how close each supporter was to turning off the television at 107 for 8. Though they can sometimes be fickle, no Sri Lanka fan admits to having abandoned hope that night. They were rewarded with a nerveless 77 not out from Mathews, a heart-stopping 132-run ninth-wicket stand, and a one-wicket win so well esteemed it has since been tagged colloquially as the "Melbourne Miracle".

As Sri Lanka prepare for their biggest Test tour in years, which includes their first Boxing Day Test in 17 years, Mathews will hope to draw inspiration from his past successes in Australia.

In many ways, that innings was the making of Mathews. His promise had been plain almost since his debut, but he had not announced himself world class until then. In the 2009 World Twenty20, he stole hearts with his athleticism and presence of mind at the boundary rope, but in Melbourne he earned the world's respect. Though he has not always found consistency with the bat, he has since played several innings of similar stature from hopeless positions, forging renown for a cool head and even temperament.

Increasingly, Mathews has also allied his considerable self-belief with a burgeoning maturity that has seen his Test game grow. Not long ago, he played cricket with a boy's ambition. In December 2009, he neared a maiden Test ton against India, but wound himself so uncharacteristically tight that he ran himself out on 99. Last year, he copped criticism for delaying Sri Lanka's ODI victory at Lord's so that Dinesh Chandimal to get to a hundred, before attracting similar sentiments when he made his own first ton, having crawled towards the milestone when quick runs would have served the team better. The scope of his goals have seemingly widened in the year since, and his last innings against New Zealand suggests, he has realised the burden of leadership is not long from being upon him, and he must play accordingly.

After his stoic 84 at the P Sara Oval in a losing cause, present captain Mahela Jayawardene acclaimed Mathews' innings as exactly the sort required from a future captain. Three far more illustrious colleagues had been removed cheaply by the movement, bounce and pace of New Zealand's seam bowlers, but Mathews' innings was chanceless from the outset, and his mind resolute. Men with many more matches in their memory had wafted tentatively and aggressed nervously, but Mathews' beat was steady and his dance sure-footed. As each comrade fell, he farmed the strike and soaked up everything the opposition could throw at him, but when the second new ball arrived, the tailenders he was left with gave him no support at all.
No one who saw his defiance will think he deserved to be on the losing team that day, and he had fought with bat in hand throughout the series, finding himself mounting a rescue in each innings after the top order had failed. His return of 210 from No. 6 was by far Sri Lanka's highest for the series, and eclipses the tallies of Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, and Tillakaratne Dilshan combined.

"He batted really well in the entire series - not just in Colombo but in Galle as well, where he batted under pressure," Jayawardene said at the end of the series. "He came and adapted to the situation. No. 6 is not an easy position to bat but Angelo is a guy who seems to find that little bit of extra mental strength. That's why we've identified him as one of the future leaders. He's showing that quality, and as long as he enjoys those kinds of challenges, I think he'll be a really good captain."

As Sri Lanka begin acclimatising to Australian conditions, Mathews can take confidence in having already bucked the subcontinent trend and proved himself undaunted by fast bowling on quick, bouncy pitches. He is perhaps the most natural puller of the ball in the side and has used the shot to prosper both in Australia and against them. His Test average of 91.33 against Australia has been constructed at home, but in ODI cricket he averages 51.50 Down Under.

If Sri Lanka's top order cannot turn their poor run around in time for the Tests, it may fall to Mathews to provide the steel to the innings. His most memorable performance in his young career came at the MCG, but by entering into a tough series with runs behind him and a technique that flourishes in alien conditions, he has given himself a chance of scripting an innings that surpasses even the "Melbourne Miracle".

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Kumara on December 6, 2012, 15:14 GMT

    @Sinhaya I have to disagree with you. In that hobart test Australia declared in both innings having a plenty of firepower to be used. SL bowling was toothless throughout the series. DRS or no-DRS, that's not the way I want to see us winning a test. In ODIs, although we have done really well in recent tours, it's going to be a whole new challenge with new ODI rules. I think this the 1st ODI series in Australia (or any bouncier wickets) that they going to use those new rules. And I hope you know what those new rules are.. ;)

    @Meety Lol it's not the real one. But, remember the Lahore terror attack? Samaraweera was the worst hit, and his injury kept him bed-ridden for six weeks after surgery to remove the bullet which struck just above the knee. "I've kept the bullet safe, The doctors gave it to my wife, and I've kept it with me. It's a very lucky bullet because it didn't injure me very badly. Doctors said it neither damaged a bone nor any of the nerves."

  • Andrew on December 6, 2012, 5:21 GMT

    @RuwanFer on (December 04 2012, 17:35 PM GMT) - are you kidding - is that his REAL nickname? If that is so, I'd love to know who bestowed that on him as that is cool in a cringeworthy sort of way!

  • Prashan on December 6, 2012, 1:09 GMT

    @Meety, thanks a lot. My feeling is that it will be 2-0 Australia as our batting is good enough to prevent a whitewash. Looking at our recent ODI record in the CB series, we may win the ODIs, who knows! In the Aussie batting, the biggest headache will be the tail where we may have the Aussies struggling at 200 for 6 and the tail may make it 400 like what happened against the Windies in Barbados this year where Windies squandered a test match winning opportunity. Last year, it was Ryan Harris and Mike Hussey who prevented us from winning the tests in our backyard.

  • Prashan on December 6, 2012, 1:06 GMT

    @Lucian Rode', I fully agree with you. We were not mentally tough enough in our previous tests. But recall the last test Sanga played in Australia in 2007 where he scored 192 and got a bad decision? We may have won that test match if DRS was there. Thanks for your wishes, but Aussies will really come hard at us after losing in Perth and hope we cope. I am sure in the ODIs we will do well because in our last 10 ODIs against Australia in Australia. We have won 7 out of them.

  • Kumara on December 4, 2012, 17:35 GMT

    @priceless1 There is a middle order batsman in the SL team that we called Bullet Samare. While he doesn't look pretty with all kinds pads hanging around his body, the guy can bat. Not elegant but damn effective. Don't forget who scored two hundreds in South Africa. It's not Mathews.

  • Dummy4 on December 4, 2012, 11:03 GMT

    Yep, he is good batsman, but don't think he is a good all-rounder. Genuine all-rounders are a rare breed these days.

  • Sugath on December 4, 2012, 10:43 GMT

    two bowlers who could have made a difference, Ajantha Mendis and Dhananjaya are not in while Randiv who was ineffective against Black caps is in. Mendis could have made a big difference as opposed to some of the quicks who have not been consistant. You must use your strengths and not just copy the opposition

  • Amila on December 4, 2012, 8:44 GMT

    as usual once again Mahela and Dilshan will be big failures , its up to Sanga and Mathews to put up some decent fight to the Australians ( though i highly doubt even that would happen)

  • Phani on December 4, 2012, 8:21 GMT

    Kidding, right? Mathews in Australia...given that Aus has just played World no.1 team, they are really tested at their home conditions...very bad time to go Aus & Jaya saying " Mathews Key?".....let me be very clear..Jaya, Sanga --- two key players..if they retire, all & gone for Srilanka

  • Dummy4 on December 4, 2012, 8:08 GMT

    Can The Sri Lankan team go through a crash course in mental toughness please , they do have plenty of talented stroke players ,its a delight to watch the likes of mahela sanga dilshan and mathews when they are on song ,playing test cricket against the Aussies needs careful planning , nerves of steel and not falling into the trap of reacting to clever sledging, if the batsmen could overcome these ,we could look forword to some hard fought battles on the turf good luck to both teams

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