The nervous 199!

Angelo Mathews 199
(Photo by Munir uz ZAMAN / AFP) (Photo by MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Test cricket has been now played for close to 150 years and 12 batsmen have missed out on a double hundred by just one run.

Being dismissed for 199 is a cruel thing. Having put in lot of hard work and overcome many challenges posed by some of the finest bowlers playing the game, not able to score that one run is heart breaking. Angelo Mathews joined the list earlier this week having been dismissed trying to play a premeditated shot in a bid to complete the milestone. Mathews has the unique record of having been dismissed for 99 and 199.

The 99 happened at the Brabourne Stadium (Cricket Club of India) when he chanced Sachin Tendulkar’s arm in a bid to reach his maiden hundred. He was in tears on that occasion. He had to wait for two more years to complete his maiden hundred, which came at SSC against Australia. After the 199 at Chittagong, Mathews was not in tears as he has gone through the mill. Instead, he was joking. Mathews knows that there are bigger things to worry about than missing out on a double century.

There’s been lot of emphasis on fitness in recent years in our backyard and there was ample evidence that this is paying off as Mathews nearly batted for ten hours during his marathon in the scorching heat of 40 degrees celsius.

Thin on bowling and a fragile batting order that had depended heavily on Dimuth Karunaratne in recent times, Sri Lanka needed someone to take up responsibility especially after the skipper had fallen cheaply and Mathews stood out. The manner in which he batted with the tail to take the team to a safe total on a flat deck was commendable.

Sri Lanka need Mathews to keep delivering those big scores as they have got a pretty hectic schedule in the World Test Championship with back to back home series coming up.

Mathews was the second Sri Lankan to be dismissed for 199 with the first being Sanath Jayasuiya, 25 years ago.

Fresh from his 340 at RPS, the following week at SSC, Jayasuriya rubbed salt into the Indian wounds with a terrific counterattack in the second innings. Having run out of options, Sachin Tendulkar brought the field in for Abey Kuruvilla with Jayasuriya on 199. The batsman gave the charge but didn’t connect and was cleaned up much to the disappointment of the fans.

The other Sri Lankans to be dismissed for 99 are Russel Arnold and Mahela Jayawardene. The latter was in fact run out on 99.

In the Boxing Day Test in 2020 at Centurion, the Sri Lankans witnessed Francois du Plessis throwing it away on 199, He never scored a double hundred in his career.

Sri Lankan teams of yesteryear too have witnessed players missing out on key milestones.

Mohammad Azharuddin had a dream introduction to Test cricket. As a 21-year-old he scored three hundreds in a row in his debut series against England in 1984. His next series was in Sri Lanka and he barely made an impact not being able to score a half-century in six innings. When Sri Lanka made the return trip to India in 1986, Azhar had a point to prove. He was on the verge of scoring his maiden double hundred but was given out leg before wicket on 199. Sri Lankans who played that game agree that the young batsman got a raw deal. The saddest part is that umpire V.K. Ramaswamy who gave him out was in fact a close friend of Azhar. He never scored a double hundred in Test match cricket.

Martin Crowe, the greatest batsman produced by New Zealand had saved Sri Lanka from cricketing isolation when he as captain decided to stay on tour after Navy Commander Clancy Fernando was murdered in front of the team hotel. The previous year, in his hometown in Wellington he missed out on a rare milestone. He was all set to become the first New Zealander to score a triple hundred when he was caught behind by the wicketkeeper. The man who got rid of him was his great mate and part time bowler Arjuna Ranatunga.

Interestingly, after the game, someone watching the highlights noted that one of the shots that Crowe hit had touched the boundary rope before the ball being pulled back. The batsmen had run three runs. The umpires didn’t notice. Had it been counted as a boundary, Crowe would have created history. The man richly deserved it. So did Azhar, Du Plessis and Mathews. But the game can be cruel at times as you miss key milestones by the narrowest of margins.

Sri Lanka will hope that Mathews continues his form as the next Test in Dhaka will be played on a track that has produced results. When he scores big, Sri Lanka tend to win.