Comeback man Mathews seeks to ‘improve further’ after starring in Sri Lanka’s wins

Sri Lanka
Angelo Mathews has had quite the ride over the last ten years. He was once the crown-prince of Sri Lanka’s white-ball teams, and then became the injury-riddled senior as the men’s team’s results plummeted, before eventually the previous set of selectors deployed him only in Tests – an experience that frustrated Mathews substantially.
However, Monday’s knock in the second T20I against Afghanistan was Mathews’ best since his comeback to the T20I side over the past few weeks. He came in at No. 7 in the 15th over, and though he struggled early, making only four off his first nine balls, he soon began to find the boundary.

Mathews cracked three consecutive sixes off Azmatullah Omarzai to start the 19th over, and struck four sixes and two fours in all, finishing with 42 not out off 22 balls. Sri Lanka have been desperate for that kind of finishing firepower in their white-ball sides over the last two years.

“The plan was for Sadeera Samarawickrama to bat deep so that I could bat with freedom,” Mathews said of that innings, as he and Samarawickrama put on a fifth-wicket stand worth 66. “I struggled in the first ten to 15 balls. Every ball went to the fielder when I hit it initially. But I knew I could clear the boundary.

“The way Sadeera was going I knew I could play my shots. I can improve further if I can get singles and twos in the first couple of deliveries.”

Though fitness had become a sticking point between him and the selectors, and had infamously led to a public battle with the then-coach Chandika Hathurusinghe, Mathews has since made it a point to publicise his improvements on the fitness front. Now, picked again by a new group of selectors he gets on with, he has begun to produce serious results in T20Is.

Sri Lanka will face tougher attacks than those of Zimbabwe and an Afghanistan team missing both Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman. But Mathews’ first two T20I innings in almost three years yielded 46 off 38 balls, and 66 not out from 51 deliveries in the first two T20Is against Zimbabwe. He didn’t get to bat in the third game, and got only 6 in the first T20I against Afghanistan, before the quickest innings of the lot came about in the second T20I.

In addition to hitting 160 runs at a strike rate of more than 136 since his comeback, Mathews has also claimed five wickets, though at an economy rate of 8.95. Although Mathews was not available to bowl for fitness reasons several years ago, he has, more recently, again made bowling an important part of what he offers the team. But this is not without its drawbacks – he’d had to clear a fitness test on account of a tight hamstring before playing the match on Monday.

But him taking the new ball in particular is handy for this Sri Lanka team, who are exploring the option of saving most of Matheesha Pathirana‘s overs for the death. Pathirana’s strengths so far have been at the back end of an innings; he has been much less effective with the new ball. Five of Pathirana’s six wickets this series have come between overs 16 and 20.

“Since the Zimbabwe series, I was told to bowl to help the balance of the side,” Mathews said. “At any moment I am ready to bowl. Selectors spoke to me too, and we had a decent chat. I am willing to give my 100%. I am enjoying my cricket, and want to do my best for the team.”

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