Blockbuster Mathews the impetus to Sri Lanka’s resurgence Says, ‘Life’s all about Pressure’

It is a critical new voyaging phase of Sri Lanka cricket that the sub continent nation, dubbed the Paradise Isle in the Indian Ocean, seeks new vistas. It becomes pertinently the thrust for a new order in rebuilding in the wake of senior player retirements and injuries to some. It is a search for the Holy Grail for an anointment that was truly saw tiny Sri Lanka bask as the paradise of cricket in the biff bang game. Had not Sri Lanka jolted the rest of the cricketing world just 15 years since entering the International Cricket (ICC) fold in1981, when the Indian Ocean nation brought mighty Australia dubbed the super power of world cricket to its knees? Winning the cricket world cup in 1996 was indeed a Goliath act by Sri Lanka in comparing with some giant countries including the old masters of the game England whom that chunk of gold keeps eluding; Others being South Africa and New Zealand who had been in the ICC fold long before Sri Lanka notwithstanding the fact that the former were banned for some years for apartheid policies of its government. Sri Lanka is also one of the few countries that became kings of the shortest version of the game, the T20 in 2014 in rollercoaster style.

The current scenario that sees Sri Lanka in a quest of finding the cohesive player combinations in all three formats of the game in fact comes in a long, long time. From a long passage of time that saw an abundance of tried and tested talent that set in motion near three and a half decades of selfless and passionate commitment to the country’s cricketing cause. Such was the fermenting fervor that served Sri Lanka cricket in a flow of nearly four generations of latent talent.

It is significantly in a post 2014 era that Sri Lanka has entered a necessarily rebuilding curve based on the reality of reaching the high goals of high performance driven by English expert Simon Wills as High Performance Manager. In a no short cuts journey where Sri Lanka, like any other country that undergoes teething problems in new phases of their cricket from player rebuilding processes, looks to a new horizon from a rainbow of raw, young talent that needs to be nurtured over a period of time towards professional cohesiveness.   Perhaps the most perfect example in recent history is England, the old masters whose cricket suddenly started picking up in a shake up from a long conventional cocoon with the induction of former Australian cricketer Rodney Marsh to administer its youth cricket. Before that, it was India who turned to hiring sophisticated modern mechanisms of foreign expertise to deliver its youth cricket base.

AUSSIE TOUR SIGNIFYING FACTOR

The Sri Lankan cricketing drive now centered on Australia in Sri Lanka for a near 3-month home series of 3 Test matches, 5 ODIs and a T20, is a signifying factor given the crusade Skipper Angelo Mathews faces. Leading his country out of the woods in search of new pastures is the herculean task he faces.  He needs to put right a 2-year hiccup in leading from the front not only as a performer in the middle and calling the shots, but also in blending the young colts in his charge towards the realization of a country dream of getting the winning act. In that perspective Mathews, who happens to be the great find from the new generation of players who has undergone a testing eight years of grooming in carrying the captaincy mantle, has come out with flying colours. His passion for the game has known no limits in becoming a tremendous torchbearer of cricket for his country.

As the Sri Lankan Skipper quips to my question, “This rebuilding voyage is definitely long term. It would be a progressive phasing of getting the right combinations in place.” And he believes that the gamut is in place for the build up to get moving. “We have the perfect support staff to work on the boys towards perfection”, Mathews quips.

Catching up with the Sri Lankan captain at the SSC’s dressing room, Mathews is very open minded about the job ahead. In a first things first take off, fresh from the England tour, he is not carried away by the fact that Sri Lanka enjoy the home advantage. “Sure the home advantage is a plus factor for us, but having said that we must be mindful that Australia have been successful in their game in any conditions including the sub continent,” he airs.

FIELDING

He is realistic to getting down to the brass tacks of trying reversing the 2011 fortunes when the Aussies stood tall. “In 2011 we lost and we have to play to win this time,” are ominous words in a harsh scenario where Australia basks in the glow of the No.1 country in Test cricket. He does not agree that the fielding flagged in England, but that it was inconsistent.

“Inconsistency was the worrying factor. In one match we were good but in the next wonky,” is how the Sri Lankan captain sees it. He believes that this loophole should be plugged from the academy development squad stage where players are made to retain a persistent fruition.

Having made his international foray in 2008,

What is buoying to the Sri Lankan camp is the bludgeoning batting flair the 29-year old packs into a big made frame; a power play that is made to look effective as the right hander simply stands and smashes the ball to the fence in a complete dictate of bowlers when in full flow. It is a strong point that reminisces of the likes of Clive Lloyd days during the height of West Indian cricket.

THE BOLD & THE BEAUTIFUL

The will to succeed in the most demanding of situations that has set apart Angelo Mathews as a destroyer with the willow. “What is your most memorable innings?,” I ask him, and Angelo is quick with the answer. “Taking 160 off England in a Test match off England at Leeds is unforgettable. That is blossomed to a historic series winning 200-run partnership with Rangana Herath right down the line makes the effort so much more remarkable. Indeed, the Mathews batting effect to the team that has seen a once long brittle middle order beefed up is what makes the man a cut above others like the bold and the beautiful.  His trademark saw him rise to the stature of the blockbuster of the side putting more senior batsmen into the shade. It saw him literally regarded as the ‘Mr. Reliable’ of the side at No.6 in bringing tremendous depth to a hitherto brittle middle order. A remarkable entry to international cricket in 2008 saw Mathews ascend in stature in rollercoaster fashion in an 8-year run. A useful medium fast bowler who progressively rested himself to concentrate as a specialist batsman saw his multi faceted talents lent to Mathews been named Sri Lanka’s youngest ever Test captain at 25. His blockbuster effect with the bat that saw his strike rate zoom to 84.06 few years back has made Angelo Mathews a great reveler in relishing back to the wall situations. Although critics say that he has an average record in Tests in countries such as Australia, South Africa and India, Mathews did put the Australians to the sword for his maiden ton came against Australia in September, 201. Two of his four centuries were against England against a highly professional pace attack consisting of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, one of which was the classy 160 in a historic series winning Test win over England at Leeds in 2014.

LIMITATIONS

It is noteworthy that the offsetting post-2014 tide has resultantly led to Mathews having to curtail is usual aggressive approach in the interests of the team realizing the burden he has to carry where there are no more top order tried and tested game changers at the top of the batting order.  That he had to play within his limitations carrying the handicap in the recent 2016 tour of England was evident. Back home, facing Steve Smith’s world No. 1 Australians, in terms of stature and depth there will be no difference from the odds that were stacked against Sri Lanka. Mathews has been given a 15-man squad for the 3-match test series, the first test starting on July 23 at Pallekelle where the selectors have interestingly opted for some relative new faces. Along with an in form vice captain Dinesh Chandimal, upfront is relative new face 21-year old find in England Kusal Mendis along with ex-Josephian all-rounder Roshane Silva, spinner Akila Dananjaya who went off the radar after just a solitary ODI series several years ago, left arm fast bowler 24-year old Vishwa Fernando and namesake Asitha, off spinner Dilruwan Perera, left arm chinaman Lakshan Sandakan. The other regulars are openers Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva, Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal, Rangana Herath, Kusal Janith Perera.  Sri Lanka will meet Australia in a 3-match Test series and 5 ODIs and 2 T20s.

YOU RUNAWAY OR STAY & FIGHT

Skipper best reflects the immediate challenge of the Aussies and the long term hurdle ahead in the ominous words that spell out the character of the man as a fighting captain, “You have two options. Either you runaway from reality or stay and get your team back to winning ways.” He goes on to underline the back to the wall trait in him by ending in the following words, “It is nice to have that pressure. For, life is all about pressure. He also does not believe in letting people’s expectations bother him. It is nice for people to have expectations, but when you are the captain I don’t think much about expectations. Expectations are always there. You need to back your instincts as a player.”

Angelo Mathews

 Batting & Fielding averages

Mat

Inns

NO

Runs

HS

Ave

BF

SR

100

50

4s

6s

Ct

St

Tests 59 102 17 4140 160 48.70 8281 49.99 7 24 458 41 41 0
ODIs 176 147 39 4393 139* 40.67 5149 85.31 1 31 335 70 41 0
T20Is 66 52 17 987 81* 28.20 820 120.36 0 4 65 32 21 0
 

Bowling averages               Mat

Inns

Balls

Runs

Wkts

BBI

BBM

Ave

Econ

SR

4w

5w

10

Tests597234441585314/444/6051.122.76111.0100ODIs176143477736991076/206/2034.574.6444.6110T20Is6652895993363/163/1627.586.6524.8000

 

Sri Lanka squad:

Angelo Mathews (Capt.), Dinesh Chandimal (Vice capt.), Kusal Mendis, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal, Rangana Herath, Kusal Janith Perera, Roshane Silva, Akila Dananjaya, Vishwa Fernando, Asitha Fernando, Dilruwan Perera, Lakshan Sandakan.

By Srian Obeyesekere

-The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sri Lanka Cricket-