Angelo Mathews hits 100-Test milestone amid unprecedented highs (and some haunting lows)

Angelo Mathews made it clear that he was on the brink of something special, when on the last day of the year before to be year he hit 91 of 127 balls. It was the first innings of a test game in Abu Dhabi. Around him was a batting order with people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene still bent. Mathews hit limits in the company of the tail and dragged his team, kicking and screaming, just past the 200.

In the second innings, Sri Lanka trailing 179, Mathews struck out more than seven-and-a-half hours for 157 – a desperate volley and an epic match-saving rearguard produced in the same game. This would be the trend. The more decorated batters in the order had to build up their innings in much the same way, from inning to innings. Mathews, who then batted at number 6, was assigned a wall-mounted recovery effort one day, a steady consolidation gig the next, a job of the quickest type job. then.

In 2014 Mathews did everything. On feather beds. On dustbins. In Galle. By the Lord. Smashing James Anderson through the covers one month, suppressing Saeed Ajmal the next. There wasn’t a situation where you could drop him that he wouldn’t care about. Often it was something special.

There are plenty of Mathews innings that live long in the memory of that year, but none are more mythologized than his epic in Headingley. Sri Lanka had given up a 107 lead in the first innings and was in fact 69 for 4 as Mathews walked to the crease. Sri Lanka had to take a lead of more than 250 to make anything of the game, but when Dinesh Chandimala and Dhammika Prasad died in successive balls to leave the team seven for 170, Mathews basically threw his helmet down.

Rangana Herath, who has always been the willing partner, however, managed to get off to a start and remained by his side as the boundaries practically started to burst out of Mathews’ bat – rides across the ground, looks past the wicketkeeper, cuts backwards through point, plant-the-foot bashes, over midwicket, England scramble desperately into a venue where they almost always dominate Asian teams. Together, he and Herath defeated 149. They took Sri Lanka from a losing position to a dominant position, ultimately resulting in their first real win of the series in England.

Mathews had not only hit 306 runs at an average of 76 in that series, he had taken four vital wickets in the first innings of the match. His hundred from the previous week, had got his name on That honors board.

More excellent at bats followed. A home run against South Africa – Dale Steyn running hot – in which Mathews was fired for no less than 63 years. A Galle test against Pakistan that led to the most breathtaking finishes on the island in years. Sri Lanka manically ran a target of 99 on the fifth night, when daylight slipped away and a monstrous black cloud parked right above the stadium. With the grass banks full and the fort walls packed, Mathews threw 25 runs off 13 balls, hooking Mohammad Talha into the crowd for one of his two sixes. Just moments after Mathews took the winning point, the cloud unleashed a mighty downpour, as a riotous celebration began on the banks and on the fort.

The next game, a pivotal innings with a radically different atmosphere – a 43 no out to 119 as he took care of Sri Lanka’s second innings to set up a defensible target.

Mathews had also been spectacular in the colored clothes. He hit 40-for-23 in the semi-final of the T20 World Cup against the West Indies, then gave up just 25 runs from his four overs in the final against India, taking the wicket from Ajinkya Rahane. In a hastily arranged ODI series against India, he hit 92 out and 139 out, while routinely delivering cheap new ballovers.

All told, across all formats, Mathews hit 2,778 runs, took 35 wickets and was instrumental in some staggering triumphs; the T20 World Cup win, an Asia Cup win, as well as that series against England. Sangakkara had a productive year to himself and would become Wisden’s leading cricketer. But even by admitting Sangakkara himself, Mathews often had to pry his 2014 runs from the closed fists of opposition in a way Sangakkara never did.

Mathews is playing his 100th Test, something five of his island have achieved, and in some ways his journey to that milestone has been the most complicated. There have been contractual stalemates with the board, a lengthy captaincy with both terrifying and dizzying highs, a public war with a head coach and, of course, the leg injuries that would sideline him for months.

And you might look at that batting average (a tick above 45) and the count of the century (13) and wonder if he’s quite lived up to what he could have been. This is not a totally unfounded question. But if in the last few years of Mathews’ 100 test trip it’s been said that he should have done it with the Steven Smiths, Kane Williamsons, Joe Roots and Virat Kohlis, the idea only exists because you saw what he did in 2014 – when he had a glowing year as anyone has ever had for Sri Lanka. Perhaps too little has been celebrated how high he had set the bar for himself.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.