World Cup 2019: Mathews century takes Sri Lanka to 264

India struck with early wickets but a gritty century by Angelo Mathews carried Sri Lanka to 264/7.

Angelo Mathews after getting to his third ODI hundred.   -  AP Photo

The back-story was about potential leading the way to performance before it all unravelled through a spate of injuries. Angelo Mathews was once considered as Sri Lanka’s miracle-dispenser but the former captain had fitness issues that forced him to temporarily abandon bowling besides suffering a spike in his weight.

He was fat-shamed and yet he soldiered on and often rose from the ashes. At Headingley, where Saturday dawn’s drizzle paved the way for glorious sunshine, worry-lines creased Sri Lankan foreheads as Dimuth Karunaratne’s decision to take first strike seemed doomed after his men were reduced to 55 for four in the 12th over.

India was on top of the World Cup game but just as he dismissed Nicholas Pooran against all odds in the humdinger against the West Indies, Mathews was at it again but this time as a batsman. His glorious 113 (128b, 10x4, 2x6) rescued his team and eventually Sri Lanka posted 264 for seven at lunch. Mathews also found adequate support from Lahiru Thirimanne (53) and the duo’s 124-run fifth-wicket partnership proved to be a resilient spine.

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Earlier, Karunaratne strode out with Kusal Perera, eager to gift an ideal start while the stands, as it always happens in a clash involving India, turned in to a sea of blue. The openers defended and also nudged a few fours but though they coped with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, in Jasprit Bumrah they found an impenetrable fortress.

India’s spearhead kept it tight, wheeling two maiden overs on the trot. Karunaratne played and missed some and when he tried to dab past point, he couldn’t hoodwink another southpaw – Ravindra Jadeja. Incidentally, the last-named was drafted into India’s playing eleven along with Kuldeep Yadav while Mohammed Shami and Yuzvendra Chahal were rested.

The pressure kept building and in trying to finesse his cut, the Sri Lankan captain edged Bumrah to M.S. Dhoni, who was a busy man in the morning session. Perera meanwhile swung hard at Bhuvneshwar and the miscued hit eluded Kuldeep as he and Hardik Pandya almost ran into each other. On seven then, Perera couldn’t capitalise as he snicked Bumrah and warmed Dhoni’s gloves. The tale of retreating men had two more instalments as Kusal Mendis lunged forward to Jadeja while Dhoni’s lightning hands whipped the bails. Avishka Fernando, who dished out a cameo, too fell to the combine of Bumrah-Dhoni.

The stage was set for Mathews to douse the fires while the Indians had a spring in their steps. He had a sense of assurance at the crease and that trait seeped into his colleague at the other end – Thirimanne. The two played sensible cricket, preferring the doughty approach over extravagance. And when Mathews punched Kuldeep for four, his confidence gained a fillip. Thirimanne then swept the chinaman bowler and among the singles and twos, the fours too were clipped.

The Indians also had to contend with the right-left mix of Mathews and Thirimanne. Lines and field-placements had to be constantly altered while the two batsmen bedded themselves in. Mathews stood on his toes and pulled Pandya while Thirimanne slammed Bhuvneshwar past covers. Both Mathews and his partner cruised to their fifties and Karunaratne’s men had indeed found a second wind.

Mathews relished a life-line too when he hoisted Jadeja and a sprinting Bhuvneshwar failed to hold on. On 61 then, the all-rounder continued unhindered while the alliance concluded when Thirimanne succumbed to Kuldeep. Mathews reached the coveted three-figure mark with a dash of irreverence, upper-cutting Pandya for four. The overjoyed centurion leapt and punched the air.

Even though he holed out in the slog, his and Thirimanne's efforts had done enough for Sri Lanka to mount a fighting score, which at one stage seemed remote.