Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 2nd Test, SSC, 5th day August 18, 2014

'Got a move on again in Tests' - Mathews


When Angelo Mathews was made captain in February 2013, Sri Lanka's Test cricket had been at a low ebb. Fresh from the 0-3 hammering in Australia, which included a three-day drubbing in their first Boxing Day Test in 17 years, Mathews' target of becoming a top-three Test nation seemed ambitious.

In his first 10 months at the helm, he had to tackle only two Tests, against Bangladesh. But since the beginning of the year, Sri Lanka have scrapped their way up the Test ladder. A drawn series against Pakistan in the UAE preceded wins in Bangladesh and England. Sri Lanka lost at home to South Africa, but have blanked Pakistan in a two-Test series.

Sri Lanka's 2014 return of five wins for two losses has lifted them to fourth in the Test rankings, behind South Africa, Australia and England. Mathews reflected fondly on the year so far, which has also featured an Asia Cup win, a World T20 win and three bilateral series victories.

"In the past six months we've played really well, in ODIs, Tests and T20s," he said. "There are series that you don't win. But we've been very consistent. It feels great to be moving up the rankings. As I took over I mentioned that I'm trying my best to get the team to the first three, in Tests and in ODIs. We've achieved that in the ODIs and we've got a move on again when it comes to Test cricket. We need to be consistent. If you look at the past six or seven games that we played, it all went down to the wire. It went down to the five days."

Rangana Herath has been Sri Lanka's primary match-winner in the past four years, and despite a quiet period in the first four Test series this year, he returned to his best with 23 wickets against Pakistan - a record for a two-match series. He has also bowled 615.2 overs for Sri Lanka since December 31, which is 252 more than any other bowler in that period.

"Rangana has been unbelievable," Mathews said. "He single-handedly won us the two games and the series. Even the best batsmen can't negotiate him. Starting from the second Test against South Africa up to now, it's been brilliant, and Rangana did a fantastic job in the last four Tests. We knew Pakistan were going to come really hard at us. They play our spinners very well, as well. It's just that we won those difficult situations. Those little phases where we had for fight really hard, we did."

Sri Lanka needed Herath to summon such extraordinary performances considering the rest of the attack posed very little threat. The other four frontline bowlers, excluding Mathews, accrued 16 wickets, at a collective average of 43.50. Calling for more support for Herath has been one of Mathews' familiar refrains, and he voiced it again after the series win.

"Unfortunately for Rangana he had to take all nine wickets in the first innings, but fortunately for us he did the job. We needed more support from the other end. I thought the two fast bowlers bowled pretty well, but Dilruwan Perera had an off Test match at the SSC, but he's been bowling well. He picked up five wickets in the last game. He bowled well against South Africa as well, so I'm pretty sure he'll bounce back."

Among the sub plots of the Test had been Dhammika Prasad's battles with the Pakistan quicks. Prasad was bounced by Junaid Khan and Wahab Riaz when he was batting in the first innings. Prasad's retaliation ruled Junaid unfit for the second innings with a mild concussion from a blow to the helmet. Prasad was predictably targeted with the short ball by Wahab in the second innings as well.

"It's very unfortunate what happened to Junaid Khan," Mathews said. "We never play with the intention of taking revenge or causing injury. But we do try things to take wickets. At the time we were trying to unsettle him, but unfortunately he was hit. Both myself and Dhammika went and saw him after the game. He's ok now, but doctors have asked him to take more rest."

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on August 20, 2014, 0:05 GMT

    The problem for Mathews is age. Not his, but that of the only other 3 players who can legitimately claim to be top class. Mahela has gone already and will be much missed. Sanga and Herath are 36. They've got a year or two at most before they will be past their best. Then what? As this series against Pakistan showed, SL relies absolutely on those three plus Mathews himself.

    All credit to Sri Lanka for making the most of the talent at their disposal. It was a great boost for them to win in England, even though they were immensely fortunate to do so. However, when the Big 3 (or Big 2 as it is now) are done, it's going to be a very lean time for Mathews' men.

  • Nick on August 19, 2014, 12:35 GMT

    The SL attack needs the extra pace that Nuwan Pradeep brings if they are to trouble the best batting line-ups in world cricket. Herath should not be expected to take the bulk of the 1st innings wickets. Dhammika Prasad bowled with good pace and hostility against Pakistan at the SSC and with a fit and fast Pradeep at the other end they would prove a dangerous combination. While leftarmer Binura Fernando has the height and steepling bounce to worry good batsmen and he would complement the rightarm quicks Prasad and Pradeep in a balanced opening attack. Herath heroics can wait till the initial damage has been done.

  • Android on August 19, 2014, 12:20 GMT

    It has been good & hope it will be good. I don't think v should worry too much about replacements, being heavily depend on 2 or 3 players bla bla. Its common for every team at a given period that only few players seems to be consistent, not all. The best thing is when the absence of these ppl, there should be potential people to take the burden on to the shoulders. It will happen-I believe. We may lose or do badly in few games but it will be a good exposure to some other players to take the batten. There are lot of positives so far. Kaushal doing reasonably well as a opener. And Dikwella is also seems to be a good prospect. So best way is to give these people to build tgem selves. And hope chandimal will come back to his form. 3, 4yrs back the then selection committee destroyed him I guess by not giving him tge due chances

  • Indika on August 19, 2014, 7:43 GMT

    Mahela, a king and gentleman!

  • Ashok on August 19, 2014, 7:21 GMT

    2014 is proving a golden year for Sri Lankan cricket, but there are causes for concern. The batting depends far too much on Sangakkara and Matthews. The fast bowlers are promising, but the attack depends too much on Herath when the pitch isn't conducive. Sanga is 37 and Herath 36- Sri Lanka need to find quality replacements fast.

  • Hajananth on August 19, 2014, 5:33 GMT

    Still there is no answer for SL's middle order woes, It was Sanga, Mathews and Herath performances, When all of them fail to deliver, SL will be flattened

  • Steven on August 19, 2014, 3:29 GMT

    Yes the nz series will be interesting to see how Sri Lanka go I think they will do good over here they need eranga and lakmal to be fit cos they need some decent pace bowlers herath will do decent job anywhere the young keeper looks good silva should do ok in our condition but needs to kick on tharanga has been here before so he knows what to expect likewise with sanga Mathews should do good here chandimal to come back in the middle order should be good test series should be three tests though

  • Dummy on August 19, 2014, 2:56 GMT

    SL missed Lakmal and Eranga but I believe Prasad did enough to be considered the 3rd seamer ahead of Nuwan Pradeep. These 3 plus Angelo and Rangana will form a formidable attack in NZ. One more very important thing the fielding coach must do in Mahela's absence is train and develop the slip cordon. In the seamer friendly conditions in NZ, you have no chance at all if your slipers don't accept their chances.

  • Charindra on August 19, 2014, 2:39 GMT

    It will be interesting to watch Mathews in New Zealand, against an aggressive captain like McCullum. The seaming conditions will be difficult to negotiate as well. Hope he prospers.

  • Prashan on August 18, 2014, 15:04 GMT

    Well we cant always depend on Herath. But of course we were missing Lakmal, Eranga and Pradeep who are our main pace bowlers. Hope these 3 will be fit to last 2 tests in NZ as we cant afford injuries there.

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