2019 Cricket World Cup, Game 7, Afghanistan v Sri LankaContinue reading
2019 Cricket World Cup, Game 7, Afghanistan v Sri LankaContinue reading
Ill-applied and irrelevant (ironic given that it’s meant to make the individual fixtures more relevant) the Super Series score does at least give us a numerical overview of Sri Lanka’s tour of England. We know that it was an unsuccessful one for the tourists – but how unsuccessful? Well, it finished 20-4 to England, which even when you’ve never seen a points result before is quite obviously a shellacking.
Sri Lanka got half their points when it pissed it down at Lord’s, another for the one-day tie at Trent Bridge and then the clouds gifted them a fourth at Bristol. In effect, they earned one point and meteorology earned three.
They’re not a bad team. They just seem to be lacking the freakishly talented or freakishly unusual players they’ve often had in the past. It’s all been a bit of a slog. We don’t mean slog in a last-over-of-a-Twenty20 sense. We mean it in a long drive to London with ever-increasing volumes of traffic and you’re only going for some sort of pointless business meeting anyway sense – a wearying obligation from which you derive no pleasure and which is highly likely to prove unproductive too.
The captain, Angelo Mathews, has often seemed on the cusp of folding. He could carry on batting, bowling, fielding, captaining and occasionally popping off the field for hamstring treatment, but you’d also forgive him if he concluded life would be easier if he just climbed into a small drawer and pulled it closed.
England meet Pakistan all buoyant and chatty. Sri Lanka head home wishing they had more than a fortnight before the first Test against Australia.
We’re never sure why people are so averse to comparing apples and oranges. They’re both fruit, after all. It’s not like comparing ox heart and communism. Like apples and oranges, Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews are quite different, but also have rather a lot in common.
There were plenty of other contenders this year. Kumar Sangakkara couldn’t stop scoring runs and Steve Smith developed a real taste for the Indian bowling, while last year’s Lord Megachief of Gold, Dale Steyn, has become so relentlessly brilliant that people don’t even bat an eyelid when he takes 39 Test wickets at 19.56.
However, Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews have been the players who have stood out for us. We have spent the last week or so trying to choose, but their cases are so different that it has been like comparing crisps with ennui. In the end, we decided that as captains of lower profile Test nations who have led by freakish example, they both have an equal claim to the title, even if they have reached this point via entirely different routes.
We’ll start with McCullum because his case is more obvious. Until recently, he has always been far better in one-dayers than Tests, but in 2014, he averaged 20.33 in one-dayers and 72.75 in Tests. But even that doesn’t really give the full story because between the middle of February and the end of November, he didn’t get past 50 in the longest format.
Truth be told, McCullum didn’t register a single Test fifty all year. He was only an ounce of extra heft away from not having made a score between 100 and 200 either. His 134-ball 195 against Sri Lanka on Boxing Day seemed an almost childishly needless means of pointing out to everyone that he could also score normal hundreds as well as doubles and triples.
New Zealand won that match – their last of the year – just as they’d won against India in their first match of the year when McCullum had made 224. One match later, he made 302 after his side had surrendered a 246-run first innings lead to earn an unlikely draw. You can’t say he doesn’t influence matches and nor can you say that he doesn’t make the most of good form.
McCullum’s crowning achievement came in November, however. Australia had just demonstrated how hard it is to even compete against Pakistan in the UAE, let alone win, and the ‘home’ team had at first carried on in much the same vein against New Zealand. But a Kiwi side hewn in McCullum’s stumpy-but-still-up-for-a-fight image was having none of it. They drew the second Test and then minced Pakistan in the third.
Mark Craig was man of the match, but McCullum made 202 off 188 balls. It’s hard to respond to something like that and Pakistan couldn’t.
Angelo Mathews has been harder to spot. Not for him the double hundreds. In fact, even the single hundreds feel like aberrations. Mathews’ year has been almost the exact opposite of McCullum’s. He seems to have made 50 almost every time he has gone out to bat.
Only once in 20 Test innings was he dismissed for a single-figure score and despite only two hundreds, he averaged 77.33. If this is starting to sound like a celebration of mediocrity, factor in his one-day knocks and you start to get a feel for the scale of his achievement. Over 31 50-over innings, he averaged 62.20 and even when his team was rubbish, he was good. In five sad defeats to India, he delivered 92 not out after arriving with the score reading 64-3, 75 after arriving at 42-3 and 139 not out after arriving at 73-3.
Quite simply, he never lets his side down. At times in the past, he’s seemed a trifle bits and pieces. But nowadays his bits of bowling arrive alongside some magnificent pieces of batting.
His all-round performance at Headingley must rank somewhere reasonably high in some list or other of good cricket things. We’re not going to define that list or choose the ranking because that could only elicit nit-picking which is surely besides the point.
Mathews had taken 4-44 in England’s first innings when he walked out to bat. His side were 68 ahead with four wickets down and had just expended an extraordinary amount of energy in securing a nine-wickets-down draw in the first Test (a match in which he had made 102). Pretty soon, Sri Lanka were seven down and just 169 ahead. Surely the reservoirs of self-belief were running dry?
At the time, we wrote about how batting with the tail is an amorphous puzzle where your goal oscillates between singles and boundaries with the field waxing and waning constantly. In short, it’s mentally exhausting, yet Angelo Mathews took his side from 277-7 to 437-9.
Even then, he wasn’t done. England fought back through Moeen Ali. When you’ve poured so much into a game and it seems it’s still not enough, you can crumple or you can redouble your efforts. Quite how you accomplish the latter is beyond us, but that is presumably what Mathews managed in captaining Sri Lanka to their first proper series victory in England.
Between them, they’ve got it all covered. Take a bow, Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews – the sides you captain are better for your presence. You are 2014’s Conjoined Lord Megachiefs of Gold.
Can New Zealand do what Australia couldn’t and give Pakistan a decent Test match? Brendon McCullum’s already made a major contribution to his team’s cause in the second Test by winning the toss.
We don’t actually know whether McCullum went for heads or tails or whether he just passively watched the coin arc through the air after Misbah-ul-Haq had called. Whatever he did, all those hours of coin-tossing practice have been entirely vindicated and New Zealand are currently 145-1. (Update: Now they’re 159-2 and that vindication is a little less apparent).
Perhaps concerned that their attack was becoming too experienced, Pakistan have dropped ‘Imran Khan 2: Not The Same Khan’ and given a second Test to Ehsan Adil.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul is master of the forlorn rearguard. He can’t avert defeat, but by God he can postpone its arrival for a bit. Misbah-ul-Haq is another practitioner. For a while, he cornered the market on the captaincy version of this innings – particularly in one-day cricket.
There is no innings so depressing as the captain’s face-saving one-day knock. As the run-rate rises and the chances of victory recede, everyone still has to play out the overs, even though one team can’t win or play for a draw. What we are seeing is one man trying to lead, only being as pretty much everyone else is out, there isn’t really anyone to follow.
Angelo Mathews seems to be finding himself in this sort of position increasingly often. The one-day series against India probably isn’t representative in that Sri Lanka weren’t prepared and didn’t really field their full strength side. Nevertheless, in five matches Mathews delivered 92 not out after arriving with the score reading 64-3; 75 after arriving at 42-3; and 139 not out after arriving at 73-3. Sri Lanka lost all three matches and the other two in the series as well.
Sri Lanka have a way of getting themselves in order for big tournaments, so this might be a blip. But it might also be a window into a future without Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.
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.