Angelo cherishes blessing in disguise



by Rex Clementine

On Saturday, Angelo Mathews achieved what even legendary Sri Lankan captains like Arjuna Ranatunga and Mahela Jayawardene failed to achieve. Mathews’ two predecessors were brilliant tacticians and had outstanding teams at their disposals, but never achieved a Test win against world’s best team – Australia. Mathews leading a young Sri Lankan team was able to bring down world’s number one ranked team as Sri Lanka won the first Test at Pallekele by 106 runs. Mathews joined Chairman of Selectors Sanath Jayasuriya as the only Sri Lankan captain to have beaten Australia in a Test match.

Prior to the start of the first Test, Sri Lanka’s team was confirmed and Suranga Lakmal was certain to share the new ball with Nuwan Pradeep. But on the eve of the Test, Lakmal complained about tightness in his hamstring and on match day it was decided not to take a chance with Lakmal and hand Chinaman bowler Lakshan Sandakan his Test debut. It proved to be a blessing in disguise as Sandakan teased the tourists with his wiles to finish with a match haul of seven wickets.

"Looking back at the Test match, Suranga’s injury was a blessing in disguise. Sandakan bowled extremely well. It was very pleasing to see Sandakan bowling his googlies and the batsmen were finding it very tough on this wicket," Mathews told journalists after Sri Lanka went 1-0 up in the series.

It’s been a tough eight months for Mathews following humiliating bilateral series defeats in New Zealand and England while the defending champions cut a sorry figure during the World T-20 in India and Asia Cup in Bangladesh making early exits.

"After a rough, tough eight months, we needed this victory. This gives us a lot of confidence going forward. The last eight months were disappointing. We as a team got a lot of stick. But that’s part and parcel of the game. When we do well we get praised. When we do badly we get a bit of stick," Mathews explained.

The Sri Lankan skipper thanked the team’s fans for their unwavering support. "I had got the feeling that fans were turning away. from us. As cricketers we feel that. When you play well everyone loves you. When you lose, they may love you, but they are also disappointed. The best thing was to win this match for the fans. It’s a great win for our amazing fans. We thank them because that support means a lot."

Sri Lanka now have a fine opportunity to seal the series in Galle where the second Test will be played. They are ranked seventh in Test cricket and a series win against the top ranked team will help them to go a couple of places up. "It’s a very good opportunity for us. But first, we’ll try and enjoy the victory today and try and get back to work from the next day. It’s still a long way to go in the series. They’ll come back really hard at us. We’ll have to play our best cricket again to try and seal the series,"Mathews further said.

There were some nervous moments for Sri Lanka as Peter Nevill and Steve O’Keefe batted out nearly 30 overs on day five. With O’Keefe unable to run, the two batsmen were blocking everything and just four runs were scored in that period. There were 22 consecutive maiden overs and while there was no doubt that Sri Lanka will pull off the win, the weather was dodgy and play could have been suspended due to bad light.

"The two of them made us work extremely hard for the wicket. We had to keep bowling and be patient. Obviously we were a bit worried about the weather. Fortunately the weather gods didn’t prevent us from winning."

In what was a low scoring Test match, the difference was top order batsman Kusal Mendis, whose maiden century helped Sri Lanka to get a lead beyond 200 runs. Mathews praised the youngster’s effort. "Especially playing his first Test against Australia, he showed a lot of class and a lot of temperament. It was not easy to bat on that wicket. It was turning rapidly and their bowlers were bowling well and fast as well. The way he played, he made it look so easy. Most of us were struggling to get runs. The way he batted, I’m very excited for the future."

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