Mathews' weather gamble backfires
Angelo Mathews has admitted Sri Lanka did not consider the likelihood of rain when they chose their XI for the second ODI against New Zealand, nor did they vouch on weather hampering the team bowling second, at the toss.
New Zealand have hoped to bowl first in both matches in Hambantota, reasoning that Duckworth-Lewis recalculations favour chasing sides. Despite the potency of Sri Lanka's ongoing monsoon, though, Mathews has wished to bat first on both occasions, focusing on the inclination of the venue's surface instead. The first match had been washed out after 54.2 overs, and last November's ODI series against New Zealand had also been severely affected by rain, with the team bowling first gaining a discernible advantage in those matches.
Sri Lanka were doubly disadvantaged by the rain in the second match, as they contended with a wet ball that the spinners in particular found harder to grip, and a wet outfield that lubricated the ball's passage over it. The visitors eventually secured a thrilling four-wicket win, off the last ball of the match.
"We played two spinners, because we didn't make a decision based on the weather," Mathews said. "If you looked at our innings, their spinners managed to get some good turn, which showed the pitch was susceptible to spin. We weren't taking rainfall into the equation. There was rain in the past few days, but because we couldn't foresee what would happen with the weather, we took the choice to have a balanced attack - with three fast bowlers and two spinners.
"If you look at the pitch here, it's good to bat on at the start and gets more and more suited to spin, and plays slower as the match goes on. We aimed to put a big total on the board first up, but didn't take the rain into account."
In a frank assessment of his team's failure, however, Mathews suggested changes to that strategy might be afoot, ahead of the last match of the series in Dambulla. Sri Lanka must win that match - provided the rains relent long enough to allow a game - in order to draw the series.
*"The loss is a great lesson for us, given the way we coped with the ball," he said. "We have to think about how we grip the ball and how we bowl when the ball gets wet, and also about the team to play in that situation. We'll go to Dambulla, look at the pitch, and take the decision on that. Even in this match, we played what was our best XI, but we'll have a look at if the combination needs to change in the next game."
Mathews also defended his decision to use all available overs from his seam bowlers before the final over of the match, in a game that was going to the wire. Tom Latham and Luke Ronchi had produced a match-turning 93-run partnership in New Zealand's middle overs, to bring their equation down to 41 runs from four overs, when Mathews made the call to bowl both Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara, who had three overs left between them. That decision left Rangana Herath with the final over, in which he failed to defend 20 runs, against a militant Nathan McCullum.
"I couldn't use Rangana earlier because our two spinners weren't able to grip the ball or turn the wet ball, and Luke Ronchi and Tom Latham were batting well," Mathews said. "I needed a wicket at that time, and that's why I gave the ball to Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara, hoping that they would bowl well and keep as many runs left to defend as possible. I gave three fast bowlers the chance to bowl the maximum quota of five overs. "Lasith and Nuwan bowled really well to give us 20 to defend in the last over, and I thought Rangana Herath would do well, but unluckily, the match got away from us."
Mathews also challenged the young batsmen in the team to begin making sizeable contributions, after they have largely failed to provide adequate support to the senior men in the past year. Opener Dimuth Karunaratne failed in both innings so far in the series, and middle-order batsmen Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne used up deliveries and got out cheaply, after coming into bat in the late stages of the innings in the first match.
"We have not taken this series lightly, and you see that in the way we've played our best team. But our young batsmen - Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne, Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Perera - need to overcome the challenges they face. I think there is too much pressure on TM Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. Our four or five other batsmen must accept the challenge and play well. Our young players must look at our seniors and learn more, and take on more responsibility in the team."
*The second half of this story had initially been hidden, by accident
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here