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Match Analysis

Angelo Mathews reminds Sri Lanka of his enduring utility

He's older, slower, and less explosive than he once was, but his T20I comeback showed what he still offers

Sri Lanka have a tearaway in Lahiru Kumara. "He's quick in our terms, he might be quick in Australian terms also," was how bowling coach Rumesh Ratnayake described him a year ago.
But Kumara didn't get the new ball in Pune. Instead, Lasith Malinga tossed it to Angelo Mathews, who was playing his first T20I since August 2018.
Back in the day, Mathews ran through India in Colombo, but that was when Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid were still playing international cricket. He's been a reluctant bowler of late, and when he took the match-turning wicket of Nicholas Pooran against West Indies during last year's World Cup, he wasn't just bowling his first ball of the match, but his first ball in eight months.
When he does bowl now, it's gentle medium-pace off a short run-up. But he can still make things happen. In his first over at the MCA Stadium, he ambled in and floated a 121kph ball into Shikhar Dhawan's pads, and the left-hander flicked it airily to deep square leg, only for Dasun Shanaka to misdjudge the flight of the ball and parry it away to the boundary.
Mathews remained as stoic as ever. He's a bit like MS Dhoni - win or lose, he keeps his poker face on, and isolates himself from external noise. He returned to his mark, and finished the over with two gentle outswingers that KL Rahul dispatched for back-to-back boundaries. What might have been had Shanaka clung onto that chance? Could Mathews have bowled Sri Lanka to another incredible victory?
As it happened, he finished with figures of 3-0-38-0. Not particularly flattering, but this was a day when India made 201. Mathews was bowling for the first time in a competitive match since that World Cup game against West Indies, and he put in a three-over shift in the injury-enforced absence of Isuru Udana.


In pursuit of 202, Sri Lanka's top order collapsed in a heap. At 15 for 2, Mathews bundled up three bats in his hands and swung at the air in the dug-out. He strode to the crease when 15 for 2 became 15 for 3. He's no longer the finisher he was in 2014, but Mathews hinted that he isn't finished yet in T20 cricket.
He looks much fitter and slimmer he has been in years, and even stole singles from under the nose of the short cover fielder. He began quietly, playing out five successive dots from Jasprit Bumrah, before foraying down the track and biffing Shardul Thakur over midwicket. Mathews then targeted the non-turning offspin of Washington Sundar and clouted him for 22 off eight balls. But with the asking rate spiraling out of control, he had to keep taking risks, and eventually holed out off Washington, finishing with 31 off 20.
Mathews put on 68 in 37 balls with Dhananjaya de Silva, giving Sri Lanka's fans a brief spell of cheer. Then their team collapsed again, tumbling from 94 for 4 to 123 all out, ending up losing their fifth successive T20I.
Still, Sri Lanka captain Malinga was pleased with Mathews' return and improved fitness, and said the former captain's vast experience would be crucial in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup later this year, where Sri Lanka will have to play a qualifying round to join the other big teams in the Super 12 stage.
"Angie did not play [T20Is] in last one-and-a-half years, because he had some injuries. He has the experience of playing for the Sri Lanka team and franchise cricket," Malinga said. "Going forward, for Sri Lankan cricket, he is a big asset for us. He is using his experience in bowling and batting and all the young players can share [his] knowledge. Apart from his talent, young players can get more than that."
Newly-appointed Sri Lanka coach Mickey Arthur is also on the same page with Malinga and hopes to tap into Mathews' experience. Arthur said Sri Lanka had considered bringing Mathews in for the Indore T20I, but decided instead to "start off" from where the previous management had "left off".
Mathews' T20 comeback eases the burden on Malinga, who is under immense pressure as captain. Since he returned to captaincy in January 2019, Sri Lanka have lost ten T20Is under him and have won just once.
A bit of experience will do Sri Lanka's cause no harm as they look to step out of that rut, and Mathews certainly brings that. They will hope he can keep himself fit, contribute with the ball, and rediscover his attacking enterprise with the bat.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo