Sri Lanka v Australia, 3rd Test, Colombo, 4th day September 19, 2011

A hundred that Mathews might grow to regret

Angelo Mathews crawled to his maiden Test century at the SSC, and in doing so, did the game more harm than good
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Test cricket died a little in Colombo today. With a match for the winning and a series to be saved, Angelo Mathews was so consumed by his personal goal that he all but forgot about Sri Lanka's.

To score a first Test century is a significant achievement, not least on the subcontinent, where statistical milestones carry plenty of meaning in themselves. But the way Mathews went about getting there, draining the match of much of its remaining life, did a good deal of harm to the game.

Cricket is often described as a team game for individuals, and there are times when the single-minded pursuit of a century can be precisely what the side requires. Sri Lanka needed Mathews to add to the lead, and to occupy the crease for time in the company of the tail. What they did not need was for him to choke up the flow of runs so comprehensively that only 45 runs seeped from 19 overs on the fourth morning, as Australia sat back in the knowledge that a draw would win them the series.

Every delivery that Mathews dead-batted cost his team, and gave Australia a greater chance of evading defeat. Every single he refused lessened the hosts' chances of winning the match, squaring the series and keeping fourth spot in the ICC rankings. And every over of hesitance and indecision reflected badly on Mathews, Sri Lanka and the game itself.

The inertia rather reflected the wider state of the Sri Lankan team in this series, as it wrestles with leadership, management and selection changes. This is not a dressing room from which firm directives were necessarily going to be delivered. Nor was it one from which the new captain, Tillakaratne Dilshan, would have declared on Mathews in the 90s, as Michael Atherton did to Graeme Hick at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1995.

Such dithering can cost a team more than momentum. At Port Elizabeth in 1997, South Africa were lording it over Australia until Adam Bacher lingered on the edge of a half-century for an interminable period. In that time he ran out his partner and then was dismissed himself, starting a pivotal swing in a match that was ultimately won thrillingly by the visitors, handing them the series. Such misadventures can be avoided by a team-oriented approach, and also by a stronger hand in the dressing room.

The absence of a fulltime coach since the exit of Trevor Bayliss has hampered Sri Lanka's progress. Uncertainty over the role, combined with Dilshan's fledgling leadership, has meant there is less accountability and direction than is needed. Rumesh Ratnayake, the interim coach, is a capable mentor without the authority of permanence. An overseas coach is being sought, perhaps Geoff Marsh, who will need to provide strong leadership and targets for the players to work towards. Otherwise there may be more passages like that witnessed at the SSC ground, and all will be poorer for it.

This was not the first time that Mathews had been complicit in an episode where team objectives were subservient to those of an individual. Dinesh Chandimal's ODI hundred against England at Lord's was reached via what can only be described as some extreme non-batting from Mathews, who pottered around for a single from 21 balls while Chandimal eased to his century.

Having watched it in the field, England's Alastair Cook wondered aloud at the point of it all: "I've never seen that before. It is clear what they were doing, but it was a bit strange. They're perfectly entitled to do that if they want, but it was slightly strange and you never know, the cricketing gods might look at that with a bit of disgust."

Mathews, it must be remembered, is probably Sri Lanka's next captain. He was pushed forward as a possible candidate to replace Kumar Sangakkara, despite his youth, and the appointment of the older Dilshan can be interpreted as a holding manoeuvre while Mathews grows.

He will, in time, take on lessons about the wider interests of the game, and about the need to risk defeat or personal failure in pursuit of a team victory. These are the values that an effective captain must hold, and Mathews will not be ready to lead until the day he can take a dimmer view of his first Test century than he did in the moment he reached it.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • HLANGL on September 20, 2011, 14:26 GMT

    Mathews is at least quite new, so a century may have meant a lot to him. At least we can hope that he'll improve in future. BTW, isn't this how S'kara to a great extent & Mahela to (only) a slightly lesser extent, have accumulated all their 8000+, 9000+ runs, except may be only in a handful of innings ?. Just see their rate of scoring even in this same innings. After all these years of experience, that's how they are still scoring & building their statistics for their own sake. They still get some massive credit from the largely ignorant majority regardless of the runs they make not having much impact on the end result of the games. So why bother about a youngster who has just made his first hundred at the international stage while the seniors like S'kara & co. have been doing it for years & still not getting any blame ?.True, the flair of the game will die, 100% true. But the harsh truth is that the current SL batting has no flair at all, so there's basically nothing to be lost.

  • HLANGL on September 20, 2011, 14:25 GMT

    Mathews is at least quite new, so a century may have meant a lot to him. At least we can hope that he'll improve in future. BTW, isn't this how S'kara to a great extent & Mahela to (only) a slightly lesser extent, have accumulated all their 8000+, 9000+ runs, except may be only in a handful of innings ?. Just see their rate of scoring even in this same innings. After all these years of experience, that's how they are still scoring & building their statistics for their own sake. They still get some massive credit from the largely ignorant majority regardless of the runs they make not having much impact on the end result of the games. So why bother about a youngster who has just made his first hundred at the international stage while the seniors like S'kara & co. have been doing it for years & still not getting any blame ?.True, the flair of the game will die, 100% true. But the harsh truth is that the current SL batting has no flair at all, so there's basically nothing to be lost.

  • drdatla on September 20, 2011, 6:59 GMT

    mr tv radke, it is johnwright coach in that series not chapel.dravid isright in declaring because india didnot win a single test until then & he might have felt the team have to be given every chance to win

  • dummy4fb on September 20, 2011, 6:58 GMT

    This also reflection on bad Pshycological on sub Continent Side that personal mile stone prevails pver teams we sholud take the example of Australia south Afrca England who are making efforts of keeping test cricketalive

  • SMadampege on September 20, 2011, 6:16 GMT

    I strongly agree with the person who wrote this article. I am also Sri Lankan. But I have to say Sri Lanka is the only country who betray a game for one person. There are lots of similar examples in recent past. We gave unfitted Murali for world cup final and it costs that game. Also to give a farewell to Jayasuriya, we didn't include a better player to side. To get Chandimal's century, Methews ruined balls. In the end that game was so difficult to win. This is shame actually. Our players are playing individual game and there is no team spirit at all. Remember Arjuna and his collegians won 1996 world cup because of great team spirit. But Sri Lanka can't go forward unless they stop this selfish behavior. I am sure Sri Lanka will become the situation of West Indies near soon. Shame to be a Sri Lankan by seeing these things.

  • Lord.emsworth on September 20, 2011, 6:08 GMT

    A harsh article on young Mathews. Mr. Brettiq writes that cricket is a team sport and so it is.. Mathews knows only too well how frail the SL top order has been in recent times and his batting was more in the manner of staving off a team defeat rather than going for personal glory. Sure, he wanted a hundred too but he has been playing for SL since junior level and has breathed and lived team spirit for 10 years despite his youth. DB and others will do well to write about the regular SL failures in the VIP first innings where anchors Sanga & Mahela have failed often resulting in SL having their backs agaisnt the wall to stave off defeat. Making good scores once a series is lost isnt helping SL, just boosts averages....

  • VinodGupte on September 20, 2011, 5:57 GMT

    @ stark_truth - Tendulkar moved from 174 in 322 deliveries to 194 in 348 deliveries in multan. That is not slow in test cricket. Dravid should have let him finish his double hundred. What's more, Dravid, only a few years later, let Kumble finish his hundred at the Lord's in a similar situation. Yes, it was an identical situation yet he chose not to declare. Why did he choose to declare in Multan is something we'll never know.

  • dummy4fb on September 20, 2011, 5:49 GMT

    I reckon Lalinda De Fonseka's entry sums the situation up sometimes (with an eye to the future) individual "milestones"become the important feature . Power to Sri Lancan captain and young Mathews for allowing this to happen. S ometimes a win is only of interest for history

  • dummy4fb on September 20, 2011, 5:43 GMT

    The piece may be a little over critical but the fact is SL has won just 1 of its last 14 Tests. A draw here with make it 1 from 15 - not even Australia is going that badly at the moment!!

  • beejaytee on September 20, 2011, 5:34 GMT

    Rubbish article. Angelo, batting with the tail, first had to try to ensure SL didn't lose another test. If he had gone down swinging early in the first session, it would have given Australia the best part of two days to build a lead and then attack an SL batting line up that has proven VERY shaky lately.

    As it turned out, they were all out too early to take an Aussie win out of the equation. But if you can't see why they wanted to bat at least until after lunch, that's a failing on your part, not SL / Angelo's.

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