"I have been only in place for six months and Angie (Angelo Mathews) hasn't played a lot of Test match cricket prior to one of these games. But you can count on numbers over a period of time. Your numbers will tell you a pretty good story about where you stand. You can look at yourself and ask what have I done," an angry Sri Lankan interim coach, Nic Pothas, lashed out at the veteran all-rounder and ex-captain, Angelo Mathews, after the visitors succumbed to an innings loss in the second Test of the series against India.
Pothas had a point. As Sri Lanka's senior-most batsman following the retirements of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, Mathews was expected to be the lynchpin in the batting line-up. Instead his Test returns were so meagre that it reached a point where it became intolerable even for an interim coach to remain mute.
However, all this while, Mathews the ODI player was having a decent run. He may not have converted a lot of half-centuries in the last two years — eight fifties and one century — but with an average of 56.63 since 2016, the Sri Lankan all-rounder hasn't been all inconspicuous.
Interestingly, while his team has lost six out of eight ODIs against India this year, Mathews has had a fairly good run. In the eight games, the middle-order batsman has amassed 380 runs at an average of 95.00 with a hundred and three half-centuries.
Playing for a team that has had quite the winless run this year, his average is quite impressive. On Wednesday, at Mohali, Mathews’ century in the second innings was completely forgotten as fans celebrated yet another Rohit Sharma double-century, a merciless slog-fest against a hapless Lankan bowling unit.
The all-rounder had roared back to form — probably spurred on by Pothas’ scything words after the loss at Nagpur — with a terrific century at Delhi in the final Test. At Mohali, he continued from where he left off at Delhi.
Sri Lanka had nearly given up early in the run chase of 393, but one man — Angelo Davis Mathews — resisted and ensured that his team was out there for 50 overs even if it meant they could not get anywhere close to the target.
They eventually lost by a margin that was nine runs less than what is required to ensure a follow-on in a four-day Test. But that was irrelevant. The result of the game was decided the moment the Mumbai Indians skipper decided to go into Hitman-mode. It is the fight, character and tenacity that Mathews showed to make India stay on the field for all 50 overs that gives Sri Lanka hope heading into the decider.
They have the series level courtesy a thumping win in the first ODI but it already seems ages away after India hammered them down at Mohali on Wednesday. The third ODI is probably the most crucial match Sri Lanka would have played in the year.
They have suffered three ODI whitewashes this year and if anything, the Vishakhapatnam decider is a chance for them to redeem their pride before New Year. For them to do that, Mathews has to step up again and not just with the bat.
Mathews’ returning to bowling has also been overlooked this series although he has operated with the new ball in both the ODIs and started the wreckage of India at Dharamsala by dismissing Shikhar Dhawan.
In fact, his four overs at Mohali yielded just nine runs and amidst the fury that Rohit Sharma unleashed, those were quite respectable figures.
“He (Mathews) is bowling in this series. He didn't bowl in the Tests. He is prepared for ODIs and T20s. That gives us an option to balance the side. Hopefully he can do something special for us," limited-overs skipper Thisara Perera had said before the start of the ODI series.
Much to Perera's delight, Mathews has been exemplary with the ball so far. In the first game, he conceded a mere eight runs from five nagging overs of medium-pace bowling while in the second ODI he gave away a miserly nine off four overs.
He hasn't been used outside the powerplay overs yet, but at Vishakhapatnam, where scores haven't soared into the 300s in the recent past, Mathews might be a vital cog in the bowling attack. He would be required in the middle-overs to cut down the run-rate and to make use of the slowness of the wicket.
On two-paced wickets, like the one expected at Vishakhapatnam for the decider, Mathews ability to stifle the batsmen with tight lines and subtle variations in pace could be quite handy.
Since Pothas’ criticised him publically, the all-rounder has been in pristine form, scoring two hundreds (one in the Delhi Test and one in the Mohali ODI) and bowling with more purpose and effort.
There is no doubting that the senior player would be critical to Sri Lanka's chances in the series decider.