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Between 99 and 199, Mathews has seen it all   

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By Rex Clementine  

There was heartbreak for Angelo Mathews in Chittagong this week as he missed out on a double hundred in the opening Test match against Bangladesh. He joins 11 other batsmen to have missed out on a double hundred by one run. But he’s the only one to have been dismissed both on 99 and 199!

The 99 dismissal was when Mathews was young – 22 years of age – while the 199 is when he is in the twilight of his career at the age of 34. A lot has happened between the two dismissals. Mathews had gone on to captain Sri Lanka; once stepped down and once sacked, has helped the team to their maiden Test series win in England and whitewashed the Aussies 3-0.

The 99 dismissal happened in Bombay in 2009. The Wankhede was under construction to host the World Cup final and Sri Lanka’s Test match was shifted to Cricket Club of India, a stone’s throw from Bombay’s posh new ground. Also known as Brabourne Stadium, it was the first Test match to be played there in more than 30 years.

Mathews had skippered Sri Lanka Under-19 and had been taken for a tour of South Africa with the ‘A’ team. After the tour, Head Coach of the ‘A’ team Chandika Hathurusinghe told the press that Mathews should be fast tracked into the senior side. So he found himself being thrown into the deep end pretty early in his career and came out with his head held high.

There was a lot of promise those days. Mathews used to generate a pretty good pace. A surprise choice in Sri Lanka’s T-20 World Cup squad to the UK, he became the cynosure of all eyes with a couple of stunning catches at Trent Bridge.  But it was his bowling that stood out in the semi-final against West Indies at The Oval.

Chris Gayle and company are a dangerous opposition in T-20 format and nobody wants to play them in a knockout clash. Mathews was entrusted the task of bowling with the new ball and he did so well accounting for West Indies’ top three. His figures of three for 16 in four overs made everyone to scream that this is the next big star of Sri Lankan cricket.

For decades, we have been searching for that fast-bowling all-rounder who’d help us balance the side, especially travelling overseas. Mathews was earmarked as the next Jacques Kallis; a penetrative bowler, an electric fielder and an excellent finisher in the short formats of the game.

But skipper Kumar Sangakkara had other ideas. He wanted Mathews to feature in Test match cricket as well. Not everyone bought into his arguments but there’s little doubt that Sanga was ahead of his time as a captain. As an administrator though, he’s a pale shadow of his former self.

Mathews was handed his Test debut in Galle two weeks after his exploits at the London Oval. His first Test wicket was Younis Khan, Pakistan’s captain. He also proved that he’s no mug with the bat in the longer format of the game, quite capable of playing the waiting game against a quality attack.

But it was on his first Test tour to India later that year we witnessed what exactly Mathews was capable of doing with the bat and why Hathurusinghe wanted him rubbing shoulders with the big boys.

Test matches are well attended in Bombay and hometown boy Sachin Tendulkar is obviously the crowd favourite.

Mathews had batted superbly and was on the verge of scoring his maiden Test hundred. He was batting with Muttiah Muralitharan and there was not much hope of the stand lasting long. So in a bid to complete his hundred, he took on Sachin’s arm and was run out for 99. He was in tears, unable to hide his disappointment and emotions. Youthful exuberance they say.

Unlike in Bombay, in Chittagong Mathews wasn’t crying. He was in fact joking. He’s seen it all and being the father of three kids he knows there’s no point in crying over spilled milk.

Sri Lanka were unlucky not to have his services in the 2011 World Cup final in Bombay as he was injured. The injury also ruled him out of the Test leg of Sri Lanka’s tour of England. But he returned for the limited over games amidst some controversy.

For a while Mathews had been groomed as Sri Lanka’s future captain and instead of him being named vice-captain to T.M. Dilshan, the job was given to a total outsider who wasn’t sure of his place in the side. This was a time when selections were being done with little transparency and if a World Cup was around the corner, the first name they would write down was Jeevan Mendis.

The maiden Test hundred would come in 2011 against the Aussies at SSC. Senior cricket writer Malcolm Conn, however, was not at all happy with the way the hundred was scored as he opinioned that Mathews had batted too slow denying an opportunity for Sri Lanka to level the series.

It was just a matter of time before Mathews was named captain. He first got the job in 2012, a day after his 25th birthday. He has seen both unprecedented success and new lows as skipper. Thrashing Aussies 3-0 was the highlight of his stint while the lowest point was when Sri Lanka suffered a first-ever series loss to Zimbabwe. He stepped down as captain but after a matter of months was urged to take over the captaincy again only to be sacked months later on flimsy grounds. Like Ranil Wickremesinghe in politics, Mathews has seen it all in cricket.

Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene have not minced any words that by this stage Mathews should have scored over 10,000 runs in both forms of the game. But the fact of the matter is Mathews is far from it and wouldn’t even get to the milestone in a single format. That’s a shame. There’s a general consensus that he didn’t push himself. Injuries also have played their part although he’s been accused of letting the grass grow under his feet. It was a rude shock when the team’s best player in white-ball cricket was given the cold shoulder last year and was axed from ODI and T-20 sides.  Sanga and Mahela were responsible for grooming Mathews as a leader. They may have turned cut throat too having realized the wheels were coming off. However, they could have stopped short of twisting the knife.

Last year’s contract dispute was ugly. As the senior-most player Mathews stood his ground when the same people who had fought tooth and nail for the pound of flesh when they were playing the game wanted to bring down current player payments. Arrogance is not a good thing, but sometimes when you are taking on legends, you need an arrogant chap in your ranks just to put the legends in their places. Mathews was that arrogant chap who told the legends to fly a kite when he was offered peanuts as an annual retainer. Okay, okay, that lawyer was a mess. But in every walk of life, we have these misfits. In other words, square pegs in round holes. There was Cabraal handling the national economy, there was Hemasiri handling national security and at one point even Mervyn Silva as Media Minister.

Mathews told the legends that he will play for free and to his credit played without a contract. For a guy who earned US$ one million a year in the IPL to be offered an annual retainer of US$ 40,000 was an insult. During the dispute, Mathews also apparently told off Tom Moody. You don’t see many people having a go at big Tom. That’s the kind of leader you like to have led your national teams as we have too many yes men at the moment.

Having talked the talk in the boardrooms, Mathews had to walk the walk and he did so in Chittagong batting for close to ten hours in the scorching heat as the temperature exceeded 40 degrees Celsius. There was a lot of application and all the fitness work done in the gym was paying off.

Mathews will be featuring in his 96th Test match next week. The milestone of 100 Tests will come in a couple of months against Pakistan. It will be a huge moment for him. Just five Sri Lankans have reached the milestone before and more importantly, no cricketer has bounced back as much as Mathews after being written off. Don’t be surprised if he’s back as captain for next year’s 50 over World Cup.



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Yupun heads to Oregon as the third-fastest sprinter in Asia  

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by Reemus Fernando   

Sprinter Yupyn Abeykoon, who is one of the three Sri Lankan athletes to have secured their passage to the upcoming World Championships in Oregon, finished fourth in the 100 metres at the final Wanda Diamond League meeting in Stockholm’s historic Olympic Stadium on Thursday.

Sri Lanka’s only athlete to have competed at a Diamond League meet, Abeykoon clocked 10.21 seconds for his fourth-place finish. In a social media post after the race, he said that the slow start and the negative wind he encountered in the race would provide stimulation for his next race.

With his post, he has given something for the track and field fans to look forward to when he ends a long wait to see a Sri Lankan sprinter at a World Championship.

It was his second appearance in a Diamond League where only the top-notch athletes compete. Only the names of three Asians, namely, Olympian Abeykoon, India’s Olympic javelin champion Neeraj Chopra and Japanese Olympian Ryuji Miura were to be seen in the results of the Stockholm Diamond League meeting published by World Athletics.

Despite the mere participation being an achievement, Abeykoon has not given reasons to be content. In his post, he said that he was not prepared to rest until he achieves the goals he has set.

“I’m never going to put my head down until I’m satisfied with the goal I want to achieve in my career. No matter how bad a condition could affect me, or no matter how authorities disrespect and undervalue my sacrifices and my ability to do better I will always do it for myself,” Abeykoon said in his post.

Abeykoon came almost close to achieving the tough World Championship qualifying mark of 10.05 seconds this season. His legal best was 10.06 seconds to a headwind of -0.2 though he had a wind-assisted (+2.3) feat of 10.04 seconds in May in Italy where he is based.

His appearance in the men’s 100 metres at the World Championships in two weeks’ time in Oregon ends more than a decade-old drought. After Shehan Ambepitiya competed at the Berlin World Championships in 2009 no Sri Lankan sprinter has taken part in the track and field’s biennial event during the past five editions.

Former national 100 metres record holder Chinthaka de Zoysa appeared in three consecutive championships from 1995 during the period which was widely considered the golden era of athletics in Sri Lanka. There was no one to continue his legacy until Ambepitiya emerged as a true contender following his World Junior Championship heroics (appearing in the final).

Like all track and field events, the men’s 100 metres has seen a dramatic improvement during the last decade. Ambepitiya who had to struggle due to injuries had a best of 10.46 in the year he represented the country at the World Championships. He was the fastest in South Asia but in the Asian region, there were dozens of others who were faster than him. Japan’s Masashi Eriguchi, who featured in both the World Championship and Olympic finals was Asia’s best that year but had only a personal best of 10.07 (+1.9).

This year, when Abeykoon features in the World Championships he is the third fastest in Asia behind Japan’s Ryuichiro Sakai (10.02secs) and Abdul Hakim Sani Brown (10.04 secs) and will carry huge expectations. He secured his ticket to the World Championships by virtue of his ranking (42) in the World Athletics’ Road to Oregon list. Not many would bet on him to feature in the final but a sub 10 seconds feat would be within his reach. It would probably be one of his set goals and there wouldn‘t be a better place than a World Championship to accomplish that.

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Warne was ahead of his time – Arjuna

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Bitter rivals on the field, Arjuna Ranatunga was present to pay tribute to Shane Warne as Sri Lanka Cricket remembered the late leg-spinner during the first Test against Australia in Galle on Wednesday.

Rex Clementine in Galle

Their on field battles were spicy while their off field outbursts targeting each other were legendary. Both Arjuna Ranatunga and Shane Warne minced no words when it came to the other’s game or conduct. Yet, there was mutual respect between the two that was rarely noticed. When Warne wrote a book discussing the 50 greatest players he had played with or against, he had chosen Arjuna high in the pecking order. The World Cup winning Sri Lankan captain also revealed that Warne had wished him when he had become a Minister in 2015. In the public eye, they were sworn enemies. But off the field, their discussions ranged from field placings, fried chicken to kids.

Ranatunga showed up at the Galle International Stadium on Wednesday as Sri Lanka Cricket paid tribute to the leg-spinner who passed away in Thailand in March. The press were quick to catch up with him.

“Everybody knows about the run ins we had on the field but off the field we moved on well. Sri Lankans weren’t big fans of Warne, but soon after the tsunami when he came over to help, people started appreciating him as he touched their hearts,” Ranatunga told reporters.

“His death was devastating and our fans were sad. It’s a huge loss for the game as he was a brilliant student and ahead of his time. As some say, he was the best captain that Australia never had, elaborated Ranatunga.

“During our time, leg-spin was sort of a dying art. Except for Anil Kumble, Mushtaq Ahmed and Warney there weren’t many leg-spinners around. You have spinners with smooth actions and it’s good to watch. But a spinner has to turn the ball. That’s the main thing. Warney was able to do that and that was an indication that this was someone who is going to be special.”

Even to this day, for those who are engaged with the game, Arjuna emphasizes on dressing up smart as they are ambassadors of the game. One of the players he had captained is a prominent official these days and in Galle he had got an earful from the ex-captain for failing to iron his shirt. However, in Australia, a country where he has few friends, Arjuna is seen as someone who played the game ugly and even bent the rules for the advantage of his team.

“That’s something that we learned from Australia. When you go to Australia they are very tough, play the game hard and always want to win. We borrowed it from them and then used it on them. In order to compete with Australia, you have got to match their aggression and you may not be the most popular guy,” remarked Arjuna.

The legend of Warne was born at the SSC in 1992 when Sri Lanka snatched victory from the jaws of defeat losing the game by 16 runs having dominated the match for the most part. Warne cleaned up the tail picking up three wickets for no runs.

“Warne was picked at the right time. He was lucky that he had a clever captain in Allan Border. In that SSC Test, we knew that if he had bowled well in the second innings we would struggle. Still disappointed to lose that Test by the narrowest of margins as that would have been our first Test win against Australia. But that’s how the game goes. We knew from the start that Warne was special.”

“Our plan with Warney was to attack him. We knew that if we played defensively, it was just a matter of time before he got us out. Overall I would like to think that our strategy against him worked but we had bad days as well. He was too good a bowler not to come up with something to counter us. During the initial stages, I thought he wasn’t very comfortable when we attacked him. But then he developed and towards the tail end of my career he was a different bowler.”

The series between Australia and Sri Lanka has been named ‘Warne – Murali Trophy’. Which of the two spinners is the greatest?

“They were great bowlers who played for teams with different outlooks. For example, Warney played in a side that had guys like McGrath, Lee and Gillespie. Those guys had taken about three or four wickets by the time he had come and bowl. In the case of Murali, apart from Vaasy who takes a wicket or two, he had a tough ask. He had to come to bowl earlier on. Sometimes he had to take from wicket number one to last man. That’s not easy. One had a lot of time and opportunities to take wickets. The other had to share his wickets with other bowlers. Australia is a team that had so many great players. In Sri Lanka, Murali was a loner. Their rivalry was great to watch. Murali is a competitive guy and he wanted to take at least one wicket more than Warney. I thought that Murali gave his best when he played the Aussies.”

“I liked listening to Warne in commentaries. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind out. He was outspoken and forthright, which is rare among cricket commentators these days. His cricket brain was ahead of his time.”

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Sri Lanka suffer heavy defeat in Galle after dramatic collapse

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Travis Head had never claimed a Test wicket in his career and yesterday in Galle in just 17 deliveries he accounted for four wickets as Sri Lanka collapsed in dramatic style to lose the first Test by ten wickets

Rex Clementine in Galle

After an impressive ODI series win, the national cricket team is back to square one as they suffered a heavy ten wicket defeat in the first Test in the most embarrassing way inside three days here in Galle. Sri Lanka were shot out for 113 runs in their second innings in 22.5 overs as it took Australia less than a session to run through the opposition with spinners sharing all ten wickets. It’s Sri Lanka’s second lowest total ever in Galle.

Trailing by 109 runs in the first innings, Sri Lanka started off well as the openers added 37 runs for the first  wicket. Mitchell Starc’s first over had gone for 17 runs including four boundaries. That was the end of seam as Pat Cummins reverted to an all spin attack and the trio of Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Swepson and Travis Head ensured that Australia were home before lunch.

The Australian batters had used the sweep shot to great effect and Sri Lankans took a leaf out of them trying to bat themselves out of trouble with the high risk stroke. But there was a significant difference. Sri Lanka’s bowling was wayward and all over the place while the Australians were on the money and it was just a matter of time before the batsman perished.

Dimuth Karunarante and Pathum Nissanka fell in successive overs and then Kusal Mendis and Oshada Fernando departed in the space of seven deliveries as Sri Lanka were reduced to 63 for four.

A 32 run stand followed between Dinesh Chandimal and Dhananjaya de Silva for the fifth wicket and Pat Cummins figured that Swepson had become predictable. Then he threw the ball to part-timer Travis Head, who had never taken a Test wicket in his career. Soon, he became lethal polishing the lower order as he picked up four wickets in 17 deliveries.

Head claimed his maiden Test wicket with his second delivery as Chandimal was bowled neck and crop. The batsman was standing in disbelief after the ball had spun sharply and went through the gate. Three deliveries later, Dhananjaya de Silva was trapped leg before wicket to leave Sri Lanka with the tail. There was not much resistance as the last six wickets fell for 13 runs as Australia wrapped the Test match inside three days. Australia needed just five runs for victory and Warner leveled the scores with a reverse sweep for four off Ramesh Mendis in the third ball of the innings. The next ball he launched for a six to win the game in style before lunch.

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