Angelo Mathews pulls off skin and something special

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Just because it’s only a two-Test series, it doesn’t mean you’re playing Bangladesh. This Sri Lanka side is a good one. If anything, it’s their achievements that are being devalued by the quality of the opposition. But they can only beat what’s put in front of them.

In this Test, it’s Angelo Mathews’ hundred that most stands out. Even when you’re only up against an ever-changing cast of toothless fast-medium bowlers, batting with the tail is difficult. It’s an amorphous puzzle where your goal oscillates between singles and boundaries and the field waxes and wanes constantly.

Working out what to do is exhausting if you’re in this situation for even a handful of overs. Angelo Mathews took Sri Lanka from 277-7 to 437-9. If that’s not enough, consider that up until now, Sri Lanka’s tail has been pretty damn wafty and ineffectual.

It was a titanic achievement. Mathews got the better of England for so long and so profoundly that they were beaten in ways we couldn’t even see until they came out to bat. While he was at the crease, we thought he was merely skinning the home team alive. Not so. It turned out the skinning had been carried out one-handed. Out of sight, his other hand had been violently whisking inside English heads, whipping up a veritable brain meringue.

“Mmm, that looks delicious,” said his bowlers.

And verily, they tucked in.


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  1. Two disturbing brain-related images in a few hours. Are you feeling ok your highness?

  2. To be unduly harsh: I think this innings will wind up looking better in retospect than it really was. It was very, very good. It is going to look like it’s up there with some of the very finest innings ever played.

    It ticks so many boxes: third-innings rescue job; batting with the tail when all the pressure is on one man; a captain picking up the responsibility; an all-rounder, not a specialist batsman, at that; the series still at stake in a deciding match; an England bowling attack containing two of their leading bowlers of this era (and if we are measuring by volume of wickets, replace “this era” by “ever”); Headingley not renowned as a flat track; the fourth day; plenty of lovely shots for the highlights package.

    But I don’t think anyone is going to sit down and watch that innings again in real-time, his grandkids excepted. And they might notice the amount of dross that got bowled at him, including by “all-time greats”. They may also conclude that all of the pressure on Matthews (which he handled excellently) was match-situational pressure. It was almost never a crushing burden imposed by the magnificent England bowling and fielding. Ball by ball, minute by minute, he was actually under little pressure and was basically allowed to go about his business. He was level-headed enough to have a good idea what “his business” should be, and skilful enough to carry it out. But the execution would have been harder if England had made it harder, which for some reason they decided not to (right from the moment they didn’t play a spinner, in fact).

    In years to come people are going to look back at that scorecard and the highlights reel and think “wow, how did he pull that off?” The uncomfortable answer, which all involved are going to be keen to forget, is largely “because we let him.”

  3. Bell: ““It’s really disappointing but it’s exciting, new and it’s been working really well. We’ve had one really bad day in the last eight or nine so we can’t be overly disappointed. It’s only a two-Test series, so yes it looks like we’re going to lose it. Hopefully our five guys to bat can go out there and show some pride in an England shirt.”


    1. He doesn’t even know how many batsmen they’ve got left.

      In all fairness, neither did I because I’d given up before the last wicket fell.

      He should just have said sorry.

  4. Sometimes you’ve just got to put your hand up and say that the opposition played well.

  5. The strange thing about all this is that individuals have done well in this series. Root got a double hundred, Robson got a hundred, Ballance got a hundred, Prior got 86 at Lord’s, Bell got a couple of good 50s. Plunkett got nine wickets in this match, Anderson got seven at Lord’s, Broad got a hat-trick. The only people who haven’t performed have been Cook, Jordan and Moeen. Is it just that they’re not playing as a team? What does that even mean?

    1. They are afflicted by the same thing that defines the England footingball team’s World Cup performances – they rarely do it when it matters most. There is far too much “taking positives” from losses, too much analysis of who was ahead in a draw. A loss is a loss, a draw when you should have won is as bad.

      Cricket is a team sport. The ONLY point of the individual performances is to change the match result in your favour. Changing results in England’s favour ought to be the ONLY criterion for selection. I’m not saying that they have to do this every time – one of the nice things about cricket is that the load can be spread. But over a year, a player should be assessed entirely on how many times they changed, or did their level best to change, the course of a match in England’s favour. If they don’t do that…

      Consider the two players Alastair Cook (batsman) and Alastair Cook (captain). Since he has two roles, he should be fairly assessed separately in both. What has he done to England’s benefit as a batsman in the last year, and what has he done as a captain. In the former, he is in a poor run of form that ought to make him conscious of possible omission. But in the latter category – who can tell me what Cook does as a captain that actually changes the course of matches in England’s favour?

    2. Sam, to further to Bert’s excellent point, none of these players did any of these things in the second session yesterday. We took one wicket, the Herath run out, and conceded 115 runs, 41 of those runs to Herath, a player who has passed 50 only twelve times in 314 first class matches. This was when England needed to press on, for someone to make something happen.

      I didn’t follow yesterday’s play all that closely, but even from a distance I could tell that there wasn’t much of an effort to change the course of the game. It felt like the end of a set in a tennis match where one player has an unassailable lead and the other player lets him take the set and mentally prepares for the next set. This very behaviour is why I hate watching tennis.

    3. Two consecutive posts of Alistair Cook apologism on my part isn’t at all representative of how I think, but in fairness (a) doing boring, rigidly predictable things (well) got England from the post 51 all out brink to top of the world rankings and (b) absent some magic spinner or reversing wizard (Jones,Flintoff etc) what exactly can a captain do in the field to change the game? Yes England were abject and yes they were poor tactically, but given what they have at their disposal (the 2 incontestably world class bowlers they have look badly in need of a rest) is there much Cook as captain could usefully have done? Funnily enough the great captains all tend to be the ones who had great bowling attacks- or at least ones that were much better than the opposition batting ( before anyone mentions JMB).

    4. I do think he could have handled Plunkett and Ali better. Liam was brought into the side as the nearest thing they could find to Mitch, who Clarke brings into the attack for three/four overs: he takes wickets, breaks faces, and is brought out of the attack before he gets tired. Plunkett, meanwhile, was bowled for ten overs.

      And if you’re going to have Ali as your primary spinner, use him as such! He doesn’t have an awful first-class record as a spinner: especially if the pitch is spinning, let him spin.

      Telling the pacers to pitch it up a bit might have been wise too. Or, y’know, “Just do what they were doing.”

    5. There might be something in KC’s theory that Cook doesn’t actually rate Moeen as a spinner. This was a problem during the 1990s when captains would have teams full of players they didn’t rate, so they wouldn’t give them a go.

    6. My main gripes with Cook in this series are that he didn’t try all the way to win the first test, and that his demeanour and attitude as captain should be a signal to the players. His midweek cry about Shane Warne ruined that.

      And neither can we forget the Ashes series just gone, and the fallout from it. Among the senior players and staff, Cook was one of the few survivors. Time for him to prove why he was one of the survivors, why others with apparently more passion had to go while he stayed. Players and coaches were fired and made unavailable for selection precisely so that the team would cohere and results would improve. That’s Cook’s job.

      So far in two matches we’ve given away a glorious chance of winning twice. It’s not form or talent, as Sam points out. So it is something else, and it’s that something that the captain is primarily responsible for.

    7. You know, building a side from the wreckage of an old one should be about the most fun you can have as a captain.

      Putting your stamp on the side, bringing exiting new players through, trying new things, attacking the opposition, playing with some pressure off due to reduced expectations and introducing some joie de vivre. A good captain would relish this. But Cook isn’t a decent captain, he’s just the senior batsman. I suspect he wanted the captaincy because it was a promotion and he felt he had earned it, but I don’t believe he’s good at it and I don’t believe he enjoys it.

    8. Interesting point about him maybe wanting the captaincy just because it was a promotion. A lot of people have a kind of mindless ambition which largely revolves around striving for things simply because they know that they’re supposed to. It sounds stupid, but a lot of people really don’t think things through.

    9. What’s better, a draw where you should have won or a draw where you should have lost?

    10. @bert – and anyone else who has been wondering what cook contributes as a captain – the answer is, officially fuck all(*). cook is capt for the reasons which KC has made plain before: he is a private-school educated, southern batsman and therefore tops the list of eligible candidates. it’s unfortunately as simple as that. unless he accidentally coughs a load of phlegm down kate middleton’s cleavage at the next garden party, he is not gonna get demoted. even then, he will probably get away with it so long as the paparazzi don’t capture it…

      (* i grew up in somerset during the 80s; when i was a teenager, “officially fuck all” connoted an amount of hash or grass so tiny that it wasn’t enough to get you high even for ten minutes, but would get you busted and charged with possession anyway. the avon and somerset constabulary didn’t have a lot to do in those days – or at least the drug squad didn’t – and it happened to any number of my friends and acquaintances, i.e. criminal records for being caught with less than 1g… anyway, i have held on to “OFA” as meaning “not literally nothing, but so tiny as to be negligible”)

  6. I’m sure they all do their level best at any given point. Whether that is enough is a separate matter.

  7. Greetings, O Mighty King of All Things Cricket. It’s been a while.

    This “series” has been a real advert for Test cricket. Two sides, well matched but with very different strengths and characters, have given us ten absorbing days of cricket. Well, eight. At least seven.

    Watching the highlights yesterday, Mathews looked like the reincarnation of Sir Viv Richards. He just strode out there and played LIKE A BOSS. He’s good, but he’s not _that_ good.

    One thing I’ve not seen commented upon is how knackered the England seamers must have been. Hot day, lots of time chasing around in the field…it’s no wonder they weren’t bowling well. That’s the sort of situation where a few part-timers would have come in handy, and perhaps a spinner to come in and tie up an end for a while.

    For comparison, see how easy it became for England to pile on the lower order runs at Lords — once your bowlers are knackered, batsmen the “quality” of Prior and Jordan can take advantage.

    Either way, The Mighty Lankans need a wicket. And soon.

    1. Mahinda! Welcome back. It’s probably been about eight years, but you’ll always be welcome here as one of our first commenters.

      Totally agree about the tiredness of England’s seamers. A few overs from Root would have been handy to preserve them and those from Moeen are a bit of a red herring in that there were almost none in the first innings and most in the second came once the quicks were already tired. Nor did he bowl much when England were pressing for a win last week.

      Fatigue is cumulative.

    2. Thanks for the welcome!

      I think it’s been about four years. I realised that I was spending most of my lunch breaks reading cricket blogs, posting on CricketWeb, and playing Battrick. So I went almost cold turkey for a while, just so I could have time to do other stuff. Like buy a house.

      In the meantime, Mims has had a baby, Anselm’s seemingly become some sort of semi-pro photographer, and J-Rod’s all over Cricinfo!

      Far be it from me to only sing when I’m/we’re winning, but this SL tour has really got me back into things. Might even start following the county game again…is that Ramprakash fellow still around?

  8. Why can’t you people just put up your legs and say the Lankans played well? Is it because you would be mimicking a sexual position?

    1. Well, can’t blame Cooky for that, or Jimmy. They’re the right sort of fellows. That Moeen chappy, though: should have farmed the strike for that last over, shouldn’t he? Plus he looks a bit foreign – not our sort really. (“Foreign” here excluding South African, Zimbabwean, Bajan, and Australian, natch.)

      But seriously, I bet he’s first in line for dropping next match. For whatever reason.

    2. You can accuse England of a lot, but I don’t think racism is really one of them. They’re the League of Nations of international cricket – like the United Nations but doomed to failure.

    3. Another nerve-jangling ending.

      Much as I hate to say it, though, justice was done.

      Sri Lanka deserved to get a draw out of the Lord’s game and deserved the win today.

      England can take some comfort from performances, as others have said, but really need to look at themselves as a team.

      Sri Lanka have less resources and probably less individual talent, at least for English conditions. But as a team they were significantly more than the sum of their parts.

      England’s problem is that the team somehow contrives to be less than the sum of its parts. This is a long-term problem for England. The successful spells in the past 10 or so years have been the blip.

      We’re back to the old England under-performance model again. Without strong leadership – conspicuously absent of late) we’re probably stuck with under-performance as the norm for some time yet.

  9. Daneel, it wasn’t racism I was accusing them of. Chris Jordan puts paid to that pretty effectively on his own. It was the whole “good sort” mentality that keeps certain men in the team – or in their roles – long past their sell-by dates.

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