Sri Lanka's Angelo Mathews
Sri Lanka's Angelo Mathews celebrates with team mates after taking the wicket of West Indies' Nicholas Pooran. Image Credit: Reuters

Birmingham: It was a sad end for the Sri Lankan team as they crashed out of the World Cup despite a 23-run win over West Indies on Monday. Even if they win over India, they can only tie with England on 10 points, and with England having more wins than Sri Lanka, the hosts would go through to the semi-finals.

Sri Lankan skipper Dimuth Karunaratne is happy that they produced entertaining cricket and is now looking ahead with confidence. A win over India too can be a bonus, and if not for the two abandoned games, Sri Lanka may have also been in contention for the semi-final spots. He thanked his players for producing good cricket over West Indies. “Players stood up at vital times and that’s what I expect as a captain. It could well be that we were putting pressure on ourselves [in the previous games] and weren’t expressing properly. But today we were good, and the middle order batted well.”

Former Sri Lankan skipper Angelo Mathews, who has been undergoing a traumatic period, took to bowling after many months and struck at the crucial time taking a wicket with the first ball he bowled. In 2018, the Sri Lankan selectors had sacked him from captaincy, dropped him from the team, and the coach even called him “fat”. After completing a century in New Zealand, he dropped to the ground and did 10 push-ups facing the dressing room and flexed his biceps to convey that he was still fit. In fact, he had got into the ODI team only after the selectors who removed him had got sacked. Against the West Indies, it was another announcement that he still deserves respect. He had also scored an unbeaten 85 against England at Leeds.

When asked whether he was surprised that he was asked to bowl towards the end, Mathew said: “I haven’t held the ball for a good eight months! We were at a stage where we had to make up two overs. And since it wasn’t wise to bowl the spinner towards the end when Pooran was batting beautifully, I suggested to the captain, ‘Since I have a bit of experience, I’ll try bowling the two overs.’”

So will he put his hands up again to bowl if needed given that he scalped the prize wicket of Pooran who was guiding West Indies to the target? “Absolutely. Pooran was the man that we needed to get and I was quite fortunate to get him in the first ball before he clobbered me for a few sixes [laughs]. But it was a fantastic effort by Pooran. He batted all the way through and he nearly got them there. But we were fortunate to get him at the right time.”

Mathew had been advised not to bowl because of the hamstring injury, and hence he wasn’t even bowling at the nets. However, he decided to risk it at the stage of the match. “Honestly, even if I would have got injured again, I would not regret the decision to bowl since we had the game nearly in our hands and we needed a bowler to come in and make up the two overs,” he remarked.

So although their team had their chances, Mathew revealed that he would still be happy if they finish off with some impressive victories. “We’re disappointed. We had our chances throughout the tournament. Against Australia, our middle order just didn’t fire. We had that game in our hands after the brilliant start. Again, in the South African game, we didn’t bat well. So it’s unfortunate we couldn’t make it to the semi-finals. But we are able to finish off well, that will be very good.”