Sri Lanka v South Africa, 2nd Test, SSC, 5th day July 28, 2014

Mathews rues Galle collapse


Sports teams like to make clean breaks from bad results - to forget failure and renew focus on the future. But as in life, mistakes have clear consequences in cricket. As he reflected on Sri Lanka's series loss, it was the poor outing in Galle that Angelo Mathews kept returning to.

The 1-0 lead that South Africa had won there allowed the visitors to pull the shutters down and pursue a draw at SSC from as early as the second day.

It was a dull brand of cricket, but an effective one. Sri Lanka had been set 370 to chase in the first Test, and were defeated attempting the target. In Colombo, South Africa had 369 to make in 127 overs, but they chose to defend their lead instead, and earned the result they had sought.

"As I always said, when you're playing the No.2 ranked team in the world, you have to be on top of your game," Mathews said. "Especially in Galle - that first innings batting collapse - we couldn't get close to their score, and that actually cost us the game. That one game cost us the series. We've always played really well against the opponents in Galle, and we couldn't do that really well this time."

Discouragingly for Sri Lanka, it has been their first assignments at home in 2014 that have also brought their first series losses of the year. They had walloped South Africa in an ODI series in 2013, but were beaten on this tour.

While the Tests were always going to be more difficult for the hosts, they had fancied themselves against a side that had not won a series on the island since before Sri Lanka's cricket became fully professional.

"Right from the start I said we need to be sharpen our games to win against them. Simply because we play at home and we know the conditions, they are not going to lose a game of cricket for us," Mathews said. "We need to put a lot of effort and do a lot of hard work to beat them. Unfortunately they played the better cricket in Galle."

Both in England and throughout South Africa's visit, Sri Lanka have yielded significant ground towards the back end of each innings. Opposition tail-enders proved hard to remove at SSC, with the likes of Imran Tahir and Dale Steyn batting for over an hour in the first innings, and defying Sri Lanka in their second. Meanwhile, the hosts' last six wickets had fallen for 36 runs in the first innings.

"We found it really hard to get the tailenders out, both in England and here against South Africa. They all can bat and hang around. With these conditions, their tailenders batted pretty well. We need to make sure that our bowlers are getting batting practice as much as they can, and get involved in scoring runs and hanging in there. If we can improve that part as well, we can improve a lot more."

Before then, however, Sri Lanka's first-innings score had been driven by Mahela Jayawardene's 165, with Mathews and debutant wicketkeeper batsman Niroshan Dickwella also contributing. Those scores had allowed Sri Lanka to achieve a position of dominance in the match, but they could not translate that into victory.

"I'm happy with the way we fought back in this match," Mathews said. "From winning the toss to building a decent first innings score - that was one of the best knocks I have seen from Mahela. He was positive right from the word go. Niroshan Dickwella looked very calm and composed. He is a great find and the credit should go to the selectors for the risk they took. The way Kumar Sangakara batted was another positive. It was a great effort."

Mathews also reserved praise for Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera, who between them, bowled 171.5 overs in the match, and at times seemed the only Sri Lanka bowlers capable of taking wickets. They shared 17 scalps between them.

"Special mention to Rangana Herath and Dilrwuan Perera as well. They were unbelievable. It was going to be hard to dismiss them, but they came up with a solid effort. They played their hearts out and tried to win the game for us, but unfortunately we couldn't."

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dinesh on July 30, 2014, 10:48 GMT

    In cricket one can't win always and all the matches. I personally feel the loss was good for the team. Can come back to basics and get everything right for the next series.

    Losing to SA is ok, But plz plz plz don't loose against Australia, Inida & England to an extent..., that's more heart-breaking and damaging for a Lankan fan.

  • Dinesh on July 29, 2014, 10:28 GMT

    it's unfortunate that SL lost the series . Mathews should be proud how the team performed especially in SSC. I strongly believe that SL should give chances to players like Kusal and Thisara Perera not only in ODI's and T20's but in all formats. SL would benefit the firepower they bring into the team. Also we should stop dropping players just because they are out of form. If you have picked players like Dinesh and Lahiru stick with them and get the older guys or former grates to mentor them don't like the idea of chop and change every time players get it wrong. at least 2 consecutive series just to prove themselves.

  • Dummy4 on July 29, 2014, 9:20 GMT

    Mathews and the selectors probably due to no reason forgot that they in Leeds bounced out English tail. The mistake was taking Mendis instead of Prasad the man who gave the win at Leeds. May be Lanka did not see gratitude when it came to Prasad.

  • Dummy4 on July 29, 2014, 8:58 GMT

    Those criticising Matthews on the declaration, please bear in mind that 120 odd overs to bowl a team out in final session is ample time, barring absolute roads. The weather was unfortunate, but you dont make decisions based on if's, but rather on what you do know. SL would have known that they could bowl SA out with 120 overs, which they almost did. It really was fantastic play from SA to steal the draw. Good Game all round.

  • prasad on July 29, 2014, 6:37 GMT

    SL did make couple of tactical errors in this match that cost them the match. First one was not picking Dhammika Prasad the bowler who took 5 wickets in his last game insted they went to select Ajantha Mendis who is fading very fast these days and more like a club bowler. second one was not declaring at 320 when SA are not going to chase any thing over 250.

  • Shamalka on July 29, 2014, 3:38 GMT

    Now the same mouths who praised Mathews in the 1st half of the year have started to curse him. Sanga was on wicket when SL was just 300 runs on top and why couldn't he suggest a declaration? Even the great tactician - Mahela suggested the declaration only before an over or two before when Mathews really declared. When we win games, everybody praise Mahela that he's the virtual captain though Mathews is the actual captain but when we lose, everybody thinks it is Mathews' sole decision to do this and that.

  • Dummy4 on July 29, 2014, 3:35 GMT

    All told it was a good effort by Sri Lanka. Credit should be given to SA, as they had more depth in their batting and the Galle pitch suited their seamers. Only concern is that there must surely be some doubt on the 4 or 5 others who will make up the 11 for WC15. Will Thissara P be given a chance to prove himself against Pakistan. Or will he be wasted and sent into early retirement like others who went before him?

  • Dummy4 on July 29, 2014, 2:00 GMT

    As Arjuna Ranathunga has said many times, Test cricket is education. You should have patient , knowledge on situation, ground , players on both own and opposite team. Though, Mathews blame for Galle defeat, its a part of his own responsibility. Now, they may point their fingers to two youngsters failed in Galle. In Arjuna Aravinda era, Sanath Mawan era, Youngsters given chance to bat higher in the order and Mahela Sanga came up. But, these days, that is not happening. 2013, Chandimal bats no 05 and got few runs...(most tests were against Bangladesh). Then he drop from the team and given no 05 to Lahiru. He failed first four innings in England and got 30 and 12 in Galled and dropped. Captain should have a plan and courage to get out of the team. Mathews is too defensive and not giving the proposer chance to young guys. SSC prasad could have played and attack more with face.

  • Dummy4 on July 29, 2014, 1:14 GMT

    Mathews played 15 overs too many in the second innings. That in the end denied SL victory. When you are 1-0 down, you have to take some little chances. Mathews was very defensive. Also he should have bowled some owners and certainly Lakmal should have bowled more overs too. It was a spinning wicket, but with an old ball reverse swing cal also give you wickets. Mathews did not explore that. On the whole a rating of 4 on a scale of 10 to Mathews. Need to show improvement.

  • Peter on July 28, 2014, 21:38 GMT

    Come on Angelo, there are key moments for all teams, that is what makes cricket. The fact is, Sth Africa outperformed you in Galle & you left your declaration far too late given the state of the pitch and expected weather conditions.

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