Pakistan v Sri Lanka, Asia Cup, final, Dhaka March 8, 2014

'Thirimanne batted with a niggle' - Mathews

ESPNcricinfo staff
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After missing most of Sri Lanka's series against Bangladesh with an ankle injury, Lahiru Thirimanne returned to the side ahead of the Asia Cup. After he scored a century in the final to help his team achieve a five-wicket win, Sri Lanka's captain Angelo Mathews said Thirimanne had batted with a "bit of a niggle" in their last two games.

"He [Thirimanne] has been amazing for us," Mathews said. "He got injured, unfortunately, in the last series but he came back for us. He had a little bit of a niggle still, while he was batting, in the last two games, and he was very courageous to come out and play, the way he did.

"[I am] very happy, because you push him up the order, you push him down the order, he's one of those players who never get a chance at one spot. And wherever he gets the opportunity he scores runs for us. And that's a team player for me, and he did amazing for us, and he's a great find for us."

Mathews agreed when asked if Thirimanne was in line to become Kumar Sangakkara's long-term replacement in the Sri Lanka side.

"Yeah, after Sangakkara, Mahela [Jayawardene] retire, Thirimanne, [Dinesh] Chandimal are the ones who are going to take their reins. It is not easy to fill their shoes, but the way they are performing right now, I'm pretty sure they'll take responsibility in the future."

After his century in the final, Thirimanne's average in the top three rose to 49.08 in 14 innings. At No. 4 or lower, he averages 22.80 in 33 innings.

"We've got to see how it goes," Mathews said, when asked if Thirimanne would retain his role as opener in the near future. "He opened the batting because [Tillakaratne] Dilshan got injured in the Bangladesh series. As I said before, he's one of those players, you give him the opportunity, wherever you bat him, he will score runs for us. We still haven't thought about where he's going to bat, but definitely he's been a find for us this tournament."

Lasith Malinga was Sri Lanka's other hero of the day, taking all five wickets that fell during Pakistan's innings. He was returning to the side after sitting out the match against Bangladesh.

"Really happy that he rested against Bangladesh," Mathews said. "It's not easy to play consistently, especially for the fast bowlers [who] especially tire out so much. We don't have a lot of time in between [matches] so it's always useful to manage the fast bowlers, especially their workloads, and we saved him for the final. He got a five-for in the first game against Pakistan, and also another five-for today, so he's been performing tremendously for us and he's been our premier bowler for so many years."

At the toss, Sri Lanka took the unexpected decision of leaving out Ajantha Mendis, who had till then been their highest wicket-taker in the tournament. Mathews said the team had wanted to play an extra fast bowler after looking at the pitch.

"All we talked about was, the wicket is very good, and it played very good as well," Mathews said. "It didn't spin so much, that's why we wanted to play the extra seamer, because the wicket wasn't, it didn't look slow, initially."

Asked why it was Mendis who sat out, Mathews said it had been a hard call, but the team went with Sachithra Senanayake's ability to bowl economically in difficult situations.

"He's been performing for us, brilliantly, Mendis, and all the bowlers played their part in the last game as well, so it was a very tough decision," Mathews said. "Even though Senanayake went wicketless in the last game [against Bangladesh], in his 10 overs he went for 37 runs and he bowled in the first Powerplay and also in the batting Powerplay and also in the last 10 overs, so those are the crucial times you have to stop runs and he's been doing that for us.

"It's just that one game where he went off track today, can't really blame, because bowlers tend to have one off day. He has been a star performer for us, even though he hasn't taken a lot of wickets."