Straight from the shoulder


"We need to play on good wickets and try and win, rather than on dusty wickets," said Sri Lanka skipper Angelo Mathews after their third straight ODI loss against South Africa, in Pallekele. Here is Mathews inspecting the pitch at the Pallekele Stadium on August 7, a day before their fourth ODI against South Africa.(Ishara S. Kodikara / AFP)

"We need to play on good wickets and try and win, rather than on dusty wickets…… need to think out of the box if we wish to win away". These were the words of Angelo Mathews the Sri Lankan Skipper in Pallekele, after the third straight ODI loss against the South Africans.

Of all the profundity expressed so far on the subject, nothing came closer to the naked truth than that. With that admission, Mathews earns our respect for speaking so forthrightly, on one of cricket’s eternal verities.

Great cricket pitches in Dambulla

and Pallekele -

Be it Test or One Day, people flock to the cricket to be entertained. To achieve that, the wickets must offer fair opportunity for 22 men to excel over the duration of the game. That is not to say the wickets should be the equivalent of Galle Road or the Katunayake tarmac, but the cry must be for sporting wickets which offers everyone on the park willing to bend their backs, their efforts’ worth.

The Curators in Dambulla and Pallekele surpassed all expectations. This led to excellent cricket and great entertainment, culminating in a drought ending win for Sri Lanka. Because batting is the greater spectacle over bowling, the one day game remains essentially a batsman’s game. The skillful bowler however, will strive to keep things in check, while brilliant fielding can often tilt the scales. The better team on the day will win. All of these aspects were on display at Pallekele and Dambulla, in varying degrees.

No dishonour in defeat, if…… -

Given its current predicament, Sri Lanka may not want to put too much spin on the series results. Instead they may want to dwell more on the quality of the cricket they played and their competitiveness. The one day series loss should be best seen as a mere statistic, in a game which must have a loser anyway. There is no dishonour in defeat as long as a team competes without disgrace. What matters is not so much the record books, but the headway made and the ascendancy gained with each outing. The fourth one day performance is a case in point. It was the culmination of the spirited ending shown in the game before. If that spirit continues, victory will follow. Barriers will breach only when they are constantly pushed.

A fine advertisement for

Test cricket -

The preparation of unfair wickets worldwide must be discouraged since by design they are prepared to assist the strengths of the home team. This is not a new phenomena; it has happened before elsewhere. But the practice is negative since it challenges the very foundations of the game based on sportsmanship. One sees no difference between that and influencing an umpire towards partiality. Cricket can be the most riveting spectacle if two good sides are allowed to pit their wits and skills against each other on a sporting pitch. This was more than evident in the recently concluded 1st Test match between India and England, where the ebb and flow of Test cricket was seen in all its glory. The team more resilient in holding its nerve, finally won. There could have been no better advertisement for Test cricket than that, and no finer advertisement for a good Test pitch than the one at Edgbaston.

A Captain straining at

the leash -

India has come of age in many ways. Their influence and dominance in world affairs advances by the day and their cricket has been no exception. They are well led by a man whose self belief, industry and intensity of involvement, are near unmatchable. For decades India produced men and women who shone through their own individual brilliance, but everything about India now seem to converge into the brand name ‘India’. As far as today’s Indian cricket goes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

In a bid to grab an equal stake of the spoils, India prioritized as its first requirement, the need to produce cricketers who could compete anywhere on equal terms. Preparing wickets at home with more grass on them, produced a fine crop of young men who were none too shy of pace, whether when receiving or delivering. Its been a long trek from the days of Prasanna, Bedi, Venkat and Chandra, when India prepared wickets to solely suit them. Solkar was needed merely to remove the shine off the ball from one end, while the spinners even rubbed the ball directly on the grass to achieve the same result, at the other. In pursuit of their current bullish attitude, India has pitted their own men against the best from the rest through the IPL, on good pitches. This has removed any lingering vestiges of self-doubt among the Indians when in foreign company. Led by a Captain who is always seen straining at the leash, India is on the march all right.

A charmed entry into

the captaincy -

Mathews did his internship as Skipper while enjoying the luxury of two former national Captains playing alongside him. The collective brain trust of Sanga and Mahela were of immense help in Mathews’ early games as Captain. Left to his own devices Mathews didn’t come across as an exceptionally keen master strategist, but over the years he has garnered sufficient acumen to end up as a more all rounded Captain through experience. Throughout it all, he has remained mostly quiet, not tending to ruffle feathers.

Mathews’ recent candour -

Mathews’ recent candour however, has been a revelation. After the second one day loss in Pallekele, he couldn’t help but let out another home truth. "We were a bunch of school kids when it came to today’s fielding" he said, at a post match interview. He wasn’t far wrong.

It is ironic however, that Mathews comments on his side’s fielding. He has for quite some time, set a less than sterling example on the field himself. Fielding and running between the wickets are two aspects which Mathews can ill-afford to comment on. One suspects this has much to do with lingering fitness doubts in the big man.

Sheer luxury! -

For long years Angelo Matthews has been known to "manage his injuries" while playing for his country. His efforts therefore have not been at full stretch and it showed. Although playing those who are unable to give a 100% on the field is out of synch with modern cricket practice, Mathews earned himself a reprieve. Yet, to reap his fullest value he must bat as well as bowl. Unfortunately the latter attribute has been missing from his armoury for quite sometime now. What a luxury it is for any national team to be carrying its once best bowling all-rounder, without taxing him to bowl one single ball in a match, even when needed! What luxury it is too, to turn a blind eye to a player’s clear lack of mobility when fielding or running between wickets! None of these shortfalls does Mathews any justice at all. In fact he deserves much better.

The truth is, Sri Lanka may feel they aren’t sufficiently rich in resources to leave Mathews out. Yet, if the target is a good showing at the World Cup, a fully fit Angelo Mathews is crucial. Given the perennial English cloud cover, Mathews should be counted upon to deliver 10 effective overs of swing and seam when it counts. The selectors know all of this, but it appears they have got hemmed into an unenviable situation where there are too many international commitments and too little time for Mathews’ complete rehabilitation. Possibly, they may also have a gnawing fear there are far too few on the reserve bench on whom they could entirely pin their faith. Mathews it appears, has to play, in whatever shape or form he is in.

Pity, for the team and

Mathews both -

If such has been the thinking, it is flawed. However good, it is fatal to consider anyone as indispensable. If Mathews was released, the side would only lose Mathews the batsman, and he hasn’t been in ripping form anyway. If given an equal opportunity, someone else might have delivered better. Ever since the loss of the one day rubber, Mathews should have been shunted into rehabilitation, without risking any further aggravation to whatever that ails him. The truth is, however much he may wish, Mathews’ body in its present state will not permit him to give his team the full 100% it deserves and that includes his bowling. That is a pity, for the team and Mathews both.

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