What's Angelo Mathews' worth? He will remind you

Angelo Mathews scored his third hundred against India
India v Sri Lanka, World Cup 2019, Headingley July 06, 2019

Shahid Afridi had a hundred comebacks, Ross Taylor batted for years with a growth in his eye before realising it, Irfan Pathan's unrealised potential is infamous, but as far as ongoing careers go, none is more vexing than that of Angelo Mathews.

At 32, he has been captain in two separate stints, been touted as the next all-time Sri Lanka player, been dropped partly for his running between the wickets, resigned from the captaincy, been sacked from the captaincy, refused the captaincy, played more cricket than almost anyone else for three years, missed more cricket than almost anyone else since 2017, led the team to a sublime Test series win in England, led the team to a haunting home ODI series defeat against Zimbabwe, and through all of this, and maybe because of all of this, struggled to deliver on the blinding promise of his early years.

WATCH on Hotstar - Mathews' third ODI hundred (India only)

In 2014, when he was laying waste to every attack, playing every kind of innings, on every kind of surface, greatness was thought to be written on the wall for Mathews. In the years since, that wall has sadly turned out to be in a rough part of town, and has recently had graffiti all over it, plus crows nesting in the cracks.

Like a microcosm of a 12-year career, Mathews' 2019 World Cup has been as vexing as they come. In it, he has made two successive ducks, but now also Sri Lanka's highest-quality century (Avishka Fernando's ton had been against West Indies - an inferior attack to India's). He has made the scratchiest match-winning innings of the tournament against England, himself admitting he was "really struggling out there" during his 85 not out off 115 balls. Despite having decided months ago that he was giving up bowling, he delivered the craziest delivery of the tournament - one that won his team the game. Mathews stinks up an innings, Mathews dazzles, Mathews mopes, Mathews celebrates, Mathews is constantly in the captain's ear giving advice and ideas, this is no ordinary cricketer.

Against India, Sri Lanka were 55 for 4 soon into Mathews' innings, and in his greatest years - circa 2013/14 - a fighting half-century for Mathews from here would have seemed almost inevitable. There's nothing inevitable about Mathews anymore. He could as easily go scoreless for his first 20 balls before edging behind, as wallop four fours in seven balls and then hole out. Even in his worst spells of form - and man, have those been dire - you could tell this was a player with a wonderful defensive technique, a full array of shots, and pretty much every gear a batsman needs. A 20-odd from Mathews often had everything; the calm defusing of what for many would be an unplayable ball, an imperious pull to sting the boundary boards beyond midwicket, well-placed twos into the outfield, all punctuating a long sequence of desperate wafts.

But during the course of this hundred - his third in ODIs, each of them against India - his batting fell into place in a fashion that it has not for him in a year-and-a-half. Though there was reticence at the outset, there was no sense of being bogged down by anything other than Sri Lanka's precarious situation in the match. Eventually, the best Mathews strokes began to come. The pull shot to the quicks and the straight sixes to the spinner, of course, but also, the aerial reverse sweeps to beat short third man, the constant working into the outfield, and a handsome upper cut to reach triple figures for the first time since 2017.

The caveat is that this was not the Mathews of old. That Mathews, the great batsman in the making, would have been more aggressive through the middle overs, and finished with a strike rate in excess of 100, having also turned several of those singles into twos. For the first time in this tournament, though, there were hints that after everything that has happened over the last few years, that Mathews is still there somewhere. And that maybe, if the dirt of the past few years, which has caked itself around him, can be chiseled at and washed away, perhaps this Mathews can channel that Mathews again.

"When the tournament started, a lot of people told me: 'Angelo isn't performing,'" captain Dimuth Karunaratne said after the match. "But he knows no matter how much he fails, how to get into that rhythm. He has that experience. He showed the whole team how to bat on this wicket. We need that experience in a team, because we need to give the youngsters the benefit of that experience."

Maybe Mathews has missed the boat to greatness. He is in what are supposed to be the prime years of batting life. And yet, his captain dwells not on the runs he provides, like captains of Kumar Sangakkara or Mahela Jayawardene did until the date of their retirements, but upon his seniority. For those very fine players, the impact they had on the players around them was merely a supplement; for Mathews, it is now a central tenet of his value.

Maybe that is okay, though. For now, hundreds like this are fine. Because if after several years of feeling as besieged as Mathews must have felt, if you think as he must that you have been bruised and wronged, and most of all abandoned, maybe turning out to be merely a very good player is enough.

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