Monday, September 19, 2011

A hundred that Mathews will grow to regret!

Test cricket died a little in Colombo today. With a match for the winning and a series to be saved, Angelo Mathews was so consumed by his personal goal that he all but forgot about Sri Lanka's. To score a first Test century is a significant achievement, not least on the subcontinent, where statistical milestones carry plenty of meaning in themselves. But the way Mathews went about getting there, draining the match of much of its remaining life, did a good deal of harm to the game. Cricket is often described as a team game for individuals, and there are times when the single-minded pursuit of a century can be precisely what the side requires.

Sri Lanka needed Mathews to add to the lead, and to occupy the crease for time in the company of the tail. What they did not need was for him to choke up the flow of runs so comprehensively that only 45 runs seeped from 19 overs on the fourth morning, as Australia sat back in the knowledge that a draw would win them the series. Every delivery that Mathews dead-batted cost his team, and gave Australia a greater chance of evading defeat. Every single he refused lessened the hosts' chances of winning the match, squaring the series and keeping fourth spot in the ICC rankings.

And every over of hesitance and indecision reflected badly on Mathews, Sri Lanka and the game itself. The inertia rather reflected the wider state of the Sri Lankan team in this series, as it wrestles with leadership, management and selection changes. This is not a dressing room from which firm directives were necessarily going to be delivered. Nor was it one from which the new captain, Tillakaratne Dilshan, would have declared on Mathews in the 90s, as Michael Atherton did to Graeme Hick at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1995.

He will, in time, take on lessons about the wider interests of the game, and about the need to risk defeat or personal failure in pursuit of a team victory. These are the values that an effective captain must hold, and Mathews will not be ready to lead until the day he can take a dimmer view of his first Test century than he did in the moment he reached it.

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