Angelo Mathews sent a strong signal to his critics on day-four of the first Test against New Zealand. When Mathews brought up his century in Wellington on Tuesday, he celebrated the achievement by doing a series of push-ups on the turf of the Basin Reserve.
Mathews, who averages above 40 with the bat in both Tests and ODIs, struck a match-saving 117 not out from 293 balls after arriving at the crease with Sri Lanka in danger of an innings loss at 13/3 late on day-three.
He featured in an unbroken 246-run stand with Kusal Mendis to see the team to safety by the end of the fourth day and, in doing so, Mathews brought up his ninth Test century. It was his first century against New Zealand, and his first Test ton since December last year, when he scored 111 against India in Delhi.
Mathews and Mendis also set the record for the highest partnership for Sri Lanka against New Zealand in Tests. They had, by stumps, reduced New Zealand’s lead to 37 and displayed remarkable resolve and dedication to bat as long as they did under immense pressure.
Mathews began the day in a sedate manner, playing the short ball along the ground and opting for singles, while Mendis played attacking strokes at the other end. After tea, Mathews began to use the pull shot aggressively and struck boundaries off Trent Boult and Neil Wagner who finished the day with 0-100.
Mathews, who stepped down from captaincy in July 2017, was re-appointed limited-overs skipper in January of this year and fired in September after the Asia Cup.
He was also dropped for the ODI series in Sri Lanka against England in October, leading him to pen an official letter to the cricket board, stating he felt “betrayed and let down” for being made the scapegoat for Sri Lanka’s poor Asia Cup performance.
At the time, Sri Lanka’s head coach Chandika Hathurusingha and former chief selector Graeme Labrooy, who was recently sacked, justified their decision to drop Mathews from the ODI side and strip him of captaincy by telling a gathering of reporters in Colombo that Mathews held a world record for run-outs and his physical condition was unsatisfactory.
All of this is likely the catalyst for his unusual celebration in New Zealand.
With a handful of matches left until the World Cup, Mathews — a vital cog in Sri Lanka’s batting line-up in all formats — has again been selected in the limited-overs squads by a new selection panel who took over last month.
The new chairman of selectors Ashantha de Mel has said his panel has no concerns over Mathews’s ability to run between wickets or his fitness.
© Island Cricket
Shame that they dropped a player of his stature on petty grounds….
Some people are saying because Mathews was dropped he has become fitter in a few days and is performing better. This is a stupid theory. Mathews’ average is over 40 and it didn’t become 40 after he was dropped. He has always been a world class batsman. Dropping him is what idiots would do. Same thing with Kusal Mendis. They tried to drop him but had to bring him back fast because it didn’t take long to realise it was a dumb move. All our past greats have been criticising Hathu and selectors like Sanath and Labrooy because of the mess they have made by always dropping players.
If dropping Mathews from the ODI side has made him a better player, or if axing players has a profound positive impact, then we should sack the entire team for a few weeks and play a second-string side.
After a few weeks, we can bring all the players back and they will begin to perform better and start winning most of the matches they play. Right?
Dropping experienced batsmen who average above 40 and are your best run-makers in the past 12-24 months, at a time the team is struggling to beat Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, is illogical and any positive impact people think it may have does not outweigh the overall negative cost to the team and the detrimental psychological impact it has on players.
Every player will be on edge and nervous about losing their place in the side under these circumstances, and that kind of atmosphere is not the type of work environment that leads to success. Players should have the peace of mind to focus on doing well in the middle, and not have to deal with stressing over being dropped if they fail in one match or series.
Former players like Sangakkara, Muralitharan and many others have asked for consistency in selections, which means: stop dropping, chopping and changing after every series – selectors should be more mature. Stick with the players you picked? If they are good enough to be selected, then they should be given a long run and allowed a fair opportunity. If you pick them and drop them after a few matches, what does that say about the selectors’ decision-making ability?
This is not me showing support for any one particular player, it is the immature manner in which the coach and selectors have been behaving that I want to highlight. I’m not blaming one selector or coach either – many are responsible for this mess.
Awhile back, a reporter in Colombo asked Thilanga Sumathipala if the executive committee meddles in selections, and Sumathipala confirmed they did, claiming they, as the executive committee, had a responsibility to “protect the brand” and had to ensure the right players are on the park.
There appears to be many hands meddling in selections, not just coaches and selectors. I hope the new sports minister will be alerted to this too.