Monday, 13 July 2003
The Hustle
W.G. Karunasena

Opinion is divided. At times I myself am divided when I ponder this. Was Pradeep Sivanathan Mathew in control of his talent or did his talent control him? Did he think about what he did or did he just do it? Was Mathew’s sporadic success a fluke, born of unfocused genius, or part of a grand plan?.

The majority believe the former. This majority includes most commentators, players and fans. In fact, this majority includes everyone who follows cricket, except Ari and me. We believe that naive as he was, Mathew knew what he was doing. The hustle is exhibit A in our case.

The hustle was used extensively in domestic cricket, against New Zealand for the President’s XI, in the Asia Cup, and according to Tony Botham, in his 10-wicket haul vs Gibraltar. Put simply, Mathew would hide an unplayable jaffa of a delivery amidst an over of bad balls. He would bowl full tosses, short deliveries, and then after the opposition had helped itself to a few boundaries, he would unleash an undercutter or a skidder that would send the batsman packing.

“I watched the boy bowl four consecutive wides,” says Botham. “The fifth pitched on the same spot and just as the umpire was about to raise his arms, it cut back sharply and took out the bails. Amazing.”

To break the Crowe brothers’ partnership, Mathew bowled three spells. The first went for 21 in 4 overs. The second 23 in 2. Mathew appeared visibly riled and was seen kicking the dust in the outfield. He came on shortly before lunch. And in one over dispensed with both Crowe brothers and one Cairns.

“The things he could do with the cricket ball. My God, you should see.” Reggie Ranwala remembers our win in the ’92 World Cup vs South Africa. “Fellow would bowl bad ball, super ball. Bad ball, super ball. Captain was damn wild. But even though he got hammered, fellow would take wickets.” Reggie has a collection of John Player cricket cards from the 1950s that I may yet someday steal.

The prevailing wisdom is that Mathew had talent, but no control. But I put this to you. 47 wickets in 7 tests and 44 wickets in 21 one-dayers. Who was hustling whom?