Angelo Mathews is now the first Sri Lanka captain in almost two decades who does not have a consistent match-winner in his team. It is a fate that has been coming to him for some time. There are occasional flashes of the sublime from this team, but those are oases in the desert. Mathews has no batsmen who routinely transforms matches, like Aravinda de Silva or Mahela Jayawardene did. Rangana Herath is tenacious, but not often transcendent.
So as the greats faded one by one, Mathews had gradually built up his own legend. Fifty-two Tests in, the medals on his breast are many. As captain he averages 68.80 - third after his Holiness Donald Bradman and statistical first-apostle, Saint Sangakkara. In the fourth innings, Mathews' 75.71 is third again, this time one place ahead of the Don. On a trying pitch, in the back end of the SSC match, Mathews was the best batsman. With 339 runs at 56.50, he has been the pick of the series.
His is an easy plight to sympathise with. Constantly abandoned by young middle-order batsmen, consistently beating out top-order fires, Mathews is the crisis manager who is never not in crisis. In this match, he came to the crease with the score on 40 for 3 and then 7 for 3. It is a good thing he is ruled by a timeless stoicism, equally measured after the SSC's heavy loss as he was after Galle's frantic win. As subdued when he hooks for six, as he is dispassionate when his edge is beaten. If other men were witness to as much incompetence as Mathews has become used to, dressing rooms might have been set ablaze. Team buses would have run off cliffs.
On Tuesday, he had Kusal Perera's company for 135 runs, and while the two were together, there was a nuggety sense of hope. It would have been fitting if Kusal - the kind of cricketer the island specialises in producing - had helped orchestrate one of those truly chaotic Sri Lankan victories. But the pair were left with too much to do. They had sadly been preceded by another kind of Sri Lanka specialty - the batsmen who muck around for 25 balls, then hang bat and arms out like wet noodles to send balls to the slips.
"Tragic heroes have an end to their journey, after all. Hector is overcome by Achilles. Anakin Skywalker gives into the dark side. But series after series, Mathews turns up and turns it on"
So when debutant Kusal took the wrong option and reverse-swept R Ashwin straight to point, Mathews still had a mountain to climb. One of of the more comically-inclined tails in world cricket was to come. His ship was sinking, and yet again, Mathews was the last man left on deck. He was playing that same old mournful tune.
You'd think that after a while, he would tire of this fruitless pursuit. That one day he will snap and become enraged, or become bored and think: "What's the point?" Other tragic heroes have an end to their journey, after all. Hector is overcome by Achilles. Anakin Skywalker gives into the dark side. But series after series, Mathews turns up and turns it on. He was Sri Lanka's second-highest run scorer against Pakistan, and had played his team's best innings of the series. He finished each of the previous years with an average higher than 70.
"It doesn't really matter if you score a hundred or not if you end up losing," Mathews said after the match. "If I get a duck and the team wins, I'll be the happiest. That wasn't the case. Today I had to change my gears a little bit, as wickets fell down. I had to try and build up a partnership. It was quite difficult. It was hot and humid - quite draining."
Aggression is not a quality that comes naturally to Mathews, but to his great credit, he has not been so jaded by the losses that he has given up on the idea of risk. Sri Lanka might have been tempted to play conservatively and hope for rain today, but the run-rate rarely languished, even after two wickets fell in the first session. In the past, Mathews has led doomed chases against South Africa and Pakistan in Galle, and against New Zealand in Wellington. Each time the target has been daunting.
With the two seniors gone from the top order now, Mathews treads a lonely road. He can count himself unlucky. Most other exceptional Sri Lanka batsmen had a partner in crime. Aravinda had Arjuna Ranatunga. Sanath Jayasuriya had Marvan Atapattu. Mathews is left hoping that one day, at least one other reliable batsman will emerge. There are no clear takers yet.