England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 4th day June 23, 2014

Mathews unlocks another dimension

Angelo Mathews' innings may have defined the Test match but it also has potential to define his career
21

When Dhammika Prasad ramped his first ball into a diving third man's hands, Angelo Mathews hurled him a furious look. Head down, Prasad would not meet his captain's eyes, but Mathews was too disgusted to let it lie there. He crossed to the other end and threw his bat a metre, to the ground.

Mathews was made captain partly for his stoicism; his calmness, and often courage, under fire. In 17 months at the helm, he has hardly had a go at one of the many bowlers who have missed their lines, or the fielders who let balls slip through their hands and legs. Even comical ineptitude, has drawn no more than a groan from him.

But he had been battling as if for his life all morning at Headingley, making his blade wider than a sea wall as waves of England attacks broke upon it, then ruthless counter-strikes when the bowlers strayed. He had watched Mahela Jayawardene nick behind, playing loose drive. He had seen Dinesh Chandimal fold neatly into England's leg-side trap. With at least 60 runs to get before Sri Lanka's lead would feel comfortable, Prasad's foolish stroke just put him over the edge.

Mathews was only 55 at that point, playing nicely, putting his fine form to use. But few would have expected the carnage to follow. Enraged by a team-mate, and emboldened by desire, Mathews engaged beast mode. He would hit one of the great Sri Lanka innings before he left the field; a knock so outrageous, yet so clinical, it would unlock even a further dimension to his cricket than he has already managed in a rich past six months.

As England set men back on the fence to Mathews, and hoped to force a wicket at the other end, Mathews took up a sledgehammer in one hand and a scalpel in the other. Boundaries down the ground took all forms, from classical on-drives, to mows through the air, only they were all hit hard, and exactly where Mathews wished to dispatch them. The cuts past point and the glances off straight balls seemed almost effortless by comparison. When bowling full proved futile, England kept pitching it short, imagining he would lose control of his pull shot some time. Mathews never did.

But his systematic hogging of the strike was even more incredible. England's ring fielders fenced off the paddock on the off side, but Mathews would move across his stumps and work the ball to the open prairies on leg. Eventually, the bowlers would go too wide even for that, yet somehow, Mathews injected the ball between clots of England fielders and crossed when he required. Sometimes he timed the ball too well. Rarely has a batsman seemed so annoyed to watch the ball cross the rope. Of the 348 balls England would deliver while Mathews was at the crease on Monday, he would face 201.

Alastair Cook may reflect he erred in failing to attack Mathews after the first hour, and in delaying Moeen Ali's introduction, but as abysmal a day as he had, Mathews had a worse one five months ago. Mathews' tactics defied sense on day five in Sharjah. On the other end of a sapping assault now, his thinking could not have been clearer.

He knew in his soul where the fielders were for each bowler, and when they would push in, and sit back. The umpires had trouble keeping track of the number of balls in each over but, in between skipping down the track to England's fastest bowler, putting the spinner into space, Mathews never lost count. When Rangana Herath pulled Stuart Broad behind square for four, Mathews was down the pitch to embrace his partner, long before the stadium announcer had marked their century stand.

Cricket nous has not been Mathews' strength in time gone by but, until he ran Herath out, his decision-making was nearly flawless. Most times when Sri Lanka's strategy makes a mockery of the opposition, Jayawardene is involved, but he was instead in the pavilion, breathing it in.

"The message to our boys was that we just take whatever singles on offer," Jayawardene said. "Angelo batted really well in that situation, safeguarding the tail and taking the opportunity to go for those big shots when the field was in. It was the right way for Angie to go. He didn't have to take too many risks when the field was back, but whenever he needed to take a risk, he did. In that context, that showed that they were on the back foot and we just needed to drive that advantage we had forward. It was one of the best knocks I've seen."

Herath's hand in Sri Lanka's resurgence cannot be forgotten too. Before this innings, the team had urged the tailenders to show grit, and if the courage in his bowling is anything to go by, it is no surprise Herath responded most emphatically to that request. If he helps seal a victory on day five, Sri Lanka will cap off an extraordinary five months, in which they will have won every trophy they played for.

Mathews' innings may well have defined the Test match, but it also has potential to define his career. Only a handful of Sri Lanka batsmen have ever managed the kind of mastery he showcased. The challenge to him, and his team, is to never settle for just being very good.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on June 25, 2014, 11:46 GMT

    @Reza Jamal Dont compare Mathews to a player like Dhoni as he cannot survive in overseas bouncy tracks and also a weak test batman. Mathews have proven he is in Kulsner and kallis's league.

  • imtiazjaleel on June 25, 2014, 6:12 GMT

    Mathews has played two great innings- both came in the second innings of first test and second test, one saved the test and other won the test.

  • on June 25, 2014, 5:18 GMT

    Mathews is the best player in the SL team right now .As I had told earlier if he can take 3 -4 wickets in the match SL have good chance to get 10 wickets .Herath is the best and sadly the only left arm spinner playing regularly.Its good to see left arm spinner dping well in tests .If lakmal is fit then pradeep misses out .Eranga Lakmal Prasad make an okay pace bowling attack but mathews and herath make the attack decent enough for SL to win matches.

  • KingOwl on June 24, 2014, 23:09 GMT

    Great article. It's a pleasure reading Andrew's writing, relative to some of the drivel we see. I have not seen Angelo so focused, determined and almost maniacal. His aggressive sledging of Joe Root was also a bit surprising. But I think we are beginning to see a new, super confident captain, and that is absolutely brilliant!

  • on June 24, 2014, 19:45 GMT

    Reza This is Mathews hour, let us not bring Dhoni's one day performance for comparison. Dhoni overseas and in test is a shadow of what he does otherwise...congrats Mathews well done and well lead

  • Big_Chikka on June 24, 2014, 19:39 GMT

    yep, big congratulations to the sri lankans, desilva, ranatunga, jaysuriya.......all that led to this.........

  • Nero28 on June 24, 2014, 14:15 GMT

    Great batting perfomances by lankans. Congrats from indian fan.

  • Lakpj on June 24, 2014, 6:46 GMT

    i think that incident in Sharjah when SL played Pakistan changed Mathews as a person as well as a player for good. He is looked more aggressive in his captaincy as well as in his batting now. It is time that other young players start performing more consistently. K Silva had showed promise but the rest must start it now. Thirimanne seems to be terribly out of nick hope it will get better once he gets off from England after having Anderson-phobia.

  • Cricketluv on June 24, 2014, 6:33 GMT

    One might say if Shachithra were there, this test would have been an anti climax. A four day affair. So thanks any one who involved in calling him becuse we one of the best tests so far i the history of the game. Once he is cleared , please give us another test, and we dare to rest one of the two biggies sanga or mahela.

  • Atifkhan3489 on June 24, 2014, 6:16 GMT

    Simply mathews has played inings of his life.best inings frm my favourite team after pakistan.

  • on June 25, 2014, 11:46 GMT

    @Reza Jamal Dont compare Mathews to a player like Dhoni as he cannot survive in overseas bouncy tracks and also a weak test batman. Mathews have proven he is in Kulsner and kallis's league.

  • imtiazjaleel on June 25, 2014, 6:12 GMT

    Mathews has played two great innings- both came in the second innings of first test and second test, one saved the test and other won the test.

  • on June 25, 2014, 5:18 GMT

    Mathews is the best player in the SL team right now .As I had told earlier if he can take 3 -4 wickets in the match SL have good chance to get 10 wickets .Herath is the best and sadly the only left arm spinner playing regularly.Its good to see left arm spinner dping well in tests .If lakmal is fit then pradeep misses out .Eranga Lakmal Prasad make an okay pace bowling attack but mathews and herath make the attack decent enough for SL to win matches.

  • KingOwl on June 24, 2014, 23:09 GMT

    Great article. It's a pleasure reading Andrew's writing, relative to some of the drivel we see. I have not seen Angelo so focused, determined and almost maniacal. His aggressive sledging of Joe Root was also a bit surprising. But I think we are beginning to see a new, super confident captain, and that is absolutely brilliant!

  • on June 24, 2014, 19:45 GMT

    Reza This is Mathews hour, let us not bring Dhoni's one day performance for comparison. Dhoni overseas and in test is a shadow of what he does otherwise...congrats Mathews well done and well lead

  • Big_Chikka on June 24, 2014, 19:39 GMT

    yep, big congratulations to the sri lankans, desilva, ranatunga, jaysuriya.......all that led to this.........

  • Nero28 on June 24, 2014, 14:15 GMT

    Great batting perfomances by lankans. Congrats from indian fan.

  • Lakpj on June 24, 2014, 6:46 GMT

    i think that incident in Sharjah when SL played Pakistan changed Mathews as a person as well as a player for good. He is looked more aggressive in his captaincy as well as in his batting now. It is time that other young players start performing more consistently. K Silva had showed promise but the rest must start it now. Thirimanne seems to be terribly out of nick hope it will get better once he gets off from England after having Anderson-phobia.

  • Cricketluv on June 24, 2014, 6:33 GMT

    One might say if Shachithra were there, this test would have been an anti climax. A four day affair. So thanks any one who involved in calling him becuse we one of the best tests so far i the history of the game. Once he is cleared , please give us another test, and we dare to rest one of the two biggies sanga or mahela.

  • Atifkhan3489 on June 24, 2014, 6:16 GMT

    Simply mathews has played inings of his life.best inings frm my favourite team after pakistan.

  • on June 24, 2014, 5:53 GMT

    This is yet another example of how potent a single player can do to a team game....all that is required is calmness, intelligence and good tactics, thinking on your feet batting....and what a difference it makes....just like Dhoni....Mathews has now demonstrated he is in the same league as Dhoni...we need more cricketers of this calibre....rare but do exist I beleive...

  • muzika_tchaikovskogo on June 24, 2014, 5:48 GMT

    Having followed the game for nearly two decades now, I can say with certainty that this is the greatest innings by a Sri Lankan batsman that I've ever seen. Its one that will be remembered for ages to come. Sri Lanka deserve to take the series.

  • 9ST9 on June 24, 2014, 4:38 GMT

    There's a bit of a poet in Andrew Fernando. His articles are getting brilliant by the day. Great work mate.Keep it up!!!

  • naveen1122 on June 24, 2014, 4:11 GMT

    What an article by Andrew again. I love reading the same thing couple of times, but my boss will call back for work. Nice to see the only captaincy material in the team with the energy to handle it playing in a so domineering way. The title of the article is something I love the most.

  • ksquared on June 24, 2014, 3:39 GMT

    Another great article by Andrew, Mathews has been brilliant through out this tour his batting and bowling form has been unbelievable and that confidence has done wonders to his captaincy what he would be known for after this tour would be grit, determination, and metal coupled with brute force. It's a stark contrast to the opposition captain Cook who can be only described as shambolic.

  • on June 24, 2014, 3:32 GMT

    What a fight back Sri Lanka one of the best I have ever seen. Tribute to Angelo for his gritty innings and his inspiration leadership holding entire team.

  • on June 24, 2014, 3:08 GMT

    One of the best knocks ever in test cricket you will see, and one of the best comebacks on foreign soil ever by Sri Lanka !

  • Ellis on June 24, 2014, 2:04 GMT

    Mathews played one of the great Test innings in history, Sri Lankan or otherwise. Always in command, always on the lookout for runs. A truly dominating and match changing inninigs. Mathews paid ample tribute to Herath in his post-match interview. Deservedly so. One of the least exciting SL cricketers had stood tall and courageously to help his Captain take his team to a winning position.SL batsmen showed fight and courage. They now know how to make hard runs and win ground.

    Prasad was a complete surprise, but, all praise to him. He may never bowl a more decisive spell, but, he changed the tenor of the game. However, it ain't over till it is over, so SL must fight all the way to earn a famous victory.

  • on June 24, 2014, 1:46 GMT

    Fantastic cricket by the Lankans. They deserve to win.

    As far as England are concerned: Shri Lanka deserve to win this test. And Alastair Cook needs to be dropped. If England continue playing him, they are headed for disaster. I am not threatening Cook's long term career. But in the short term, he needs to be dropped. It will allow him to take a break, get into the nets with his mentor Graham Gooch and get back to what he did best - make big runs in a calm and composed manner. Right now, his technique is scrambled, he is not coming on to the front foot enough and his brain is all awry.

    If the selectors want Cooky to do well in the long run, they need to drop him now. I would replace him with Nick Compton.

  • on June 24, 2014, 1:28 GMT

    His self-belief, sense of control and understanding of the situation were admirable. Every over it was almost predictable when he would take the single to keep the strike according to how Herath was playing. He knew he could take a single whenever he wanted.

  • on June 23, 2014, 23:12 GMT

    Matthews the Magnificent!!!

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • on June 23, 2014, 23:12 GMT

    Matthews the Magnificent!!!

  • on June 24, 2014, 1:28 GMT

    His self-belief, sense of control and understanding of the situation were admirable. Every over it was almost predictable when he would take the single to keep the strike according to how Herath was playing. He knew he could take a single whenever he wanted.

  • on June 24, 2014, 1:46 GMT

    Fantastic cricket by the Lankans. They deserve to win.

    As far as England are concerned: Shri Lanka deserve to win this test. And Alastair Cook needs to be dropped. If England continue playing him, they are headed for disaster. I am not threatening Cook's long term career. But in the short term, he needs to be dropped. It will allow him to take a break, get into the nets with his mentor Graham Gooch and get back to what he did best - make big runs in a calm and composed manner. Right now, his technique is scrambled, he is not coming on to the front foot enough and his brain is all awry.

    If the selectors want Cooky to do well in the long run, they need to drop him now. I would replace him with Nick Compton.

  • Ellis on June 24, 2014, 2:04 GMT

    Mathews played one of the great Test innings in history, Sri Lankan or otherwise. Always in command, always on the lookout for runs. A truly dominating and match changing inninigs. Mathews paid ample tribute to Herath in his post-match interview. Deservedly so. One of the least exciting SL cricketers had stood tall and courageously to help his Captain take his team to a winning position.SL batsmen showed fight and courage. They now know how to make hard runs and win ground.

    Prasad was a complete surprise, but, all praise to him. He may never bowl a more decisive spell, but, he changed the tenor of the game. However, it ain't over till it is over, so SL must fight all the way to earn a famous victory.

  • on June 24, 2014, 3:08 GMT

    One of the best knocks ever in test cricket you will see, and one of the best comebacks on foreign soil ever by Sri Lanka !

  • on June 24, 2014, 3:32 GMT

    What a fight back Sri Lanka one of the best I have ever seen. Tribute to Angelo for his gritty innings and his inspiration leadership holding entire team.

  • ksquared on June 24, 2014, 3:39 GMT

    Another great article by Andrew, Mathews has been brilliant through out this tour his batting and bowling form has been unbelievable and that confidence has done wonders to his captaincy what he would be known for after this tour would be grit, determination, and metal coupled with brute force. It's a stark contrast to the opposition captain Cook who can be only described as shambolic.

  • naveen1122 on June 24, 2014, 4:11 GMT

    What an article by Andrew again. I love reading the same thing couple of times, but my boss will call back for work. Nice to see the only captaincy material in the team with the energy to handle it playing in a so domineering way. The title of the article is something I love the most.

  • 9ST9 on June 24, 2014, 4:38 GMT

    There's a bit of a poet in Andrew Fernando. His articles are getting brilliant by the day. Great work mate.Keep it up!!!

  • muzika_tchaikovskogo on June 24, 2014, 5:48 GMT

    Having followed the game for nearly two decades now, I can say with certainty that this is the greatest innings by a Sri Lankan batsman that I've ever seen. Its one that will be remembered for ages to come. Sri Lanka deserve to take the series.