By Champika Fernando
When Angelo Mathews arrived at the crease with Sri Lanka on 92 for 2–still 266 runs behind Zimbabwe’s first innings total of 358–he knew he had to play a long hand if they were to take control of the match. Physically, however, it proved demanding as he had just recovered from a terrible diarrhoea.
The illness had taken a toll on his fitness, leaving him fatigued. But Mathews defied tiredness to notch his maiden double century, an unbeaten 200, to lay the foundation for Sri Lanka’s comfortable victory in Harare against a team that fought tooth-and-nail to draw.
“It was very pleasing to get a double century, my first, but importantly it was magnificent to win that game,” Mathews told the Sunday Times, following his achievement which placed him along a select few.
Mathews was suffering from diarrhoea as he enplaned to Zimbabwe early on January 16. He had been hoping to recover by the time he landed in Harare. But it endured for a couple of more days amid treatment.
“I was suffering for at least five days before the Test match but thanks to Almighty God and the doctors, Prof. Arjuna de Silva, Prof. Mohan and Dr. Lalin, I was able to fight it out and play the match,” he said.
At a time when his fitness and commitment were questioned by selectors and armchair critics, Mathews batted for a marathon ten hours for his double century, Sri Lanka’s first in five years, to put the team in a strong position. But with little over a day left, the chance for a victory seemed dim till the Sri Lankan bowlers broke through Zimbabwe’s strong resistance to pull off a resounding win.
“It was not easy as the pitch was very slow and the ball kept low but I was determined to bat through,” the 32-year-old former skipper said of his fabulous innings. “The team wanted someone to make a big score and I am happy that I made that score for them.”
Angelo faced 468 deliveries and hit 16 boundaries and three sixes to reach the magical figure in a performance that required the ability, strength, discipline and the patience.“We knew if we can get a first innings lead of about 160, we can put the pressure on them and this is exactly what we did,” he said. “It’s not easy to bat on that fifth-day wicket. All credit to the bowlers for a wonderful job to finish the match on a high.”
It may have come against a low-ranked team but to score a double century against any opposition is demanding both mentally and physically.
“I have always watched Kumar (Sangakkara) Mahela (Jayawardena) making those big innings quite regularly and I wanted to do that too,” Mathews said. “It’s very demanding, takes up lot of your energy but it’s satisfying to make those big scores and contribute towards team’s success.”
Sangakkara has hit 11 double centuries, the highest behind Don Bradman’s 12, while Jayawardena has seven to his name. They scored more than 10,000 Test runs in their decorated careers. Mathews is eyeing those numbers and a few of those big innings will get him where he wants to be before he hangs up his boots. He needs 96 more runs to reach Sanath Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva in the 6000-run club.
“10,000 runs is obviously my dream but it all depend on my fitness and how I go about the business in the next couple of years,” he acknowledged. “But I would love to get there, join those two greats Sanga and Mahela in the exclusive club. I know if I can bat like I did here in Harare, my goal is realistic. I will work towards that in the next few years in my career,.”
With an average of over 45 in Tests, Mathews is arguably the best player in the side. If not for a series of injuries, which kept him out of action for many months since 2017, he would have been much closer to his target.
“That’s unfortunate,” he admitted. “But I have really worked hard on fitness over the last few years and look forward to contributing as much as I can to the team.”