Mathews strives for bigger contributions with the bat
As Angelo Mathews departed in the second innings in Hobart, he was visibly frustrated by his own indiscipline. Having defied Australia for 60 deliveries, during which he wore a Mitchell Starc bouncer painfully on his elbow, Mathews wafted at a Peter Siddle delivery that was never threatening the stumps, and provided Matthew Wade with a simple nick. He had done the hard work to get himself in on a difficult pitch, but perished before the match was made safe. His dismissal soon after tea began the slide during which Sri Lanka lost five more batsmen, and lost the Test with only 10.4 overs more to go to have batted out.
Mathews' tendency to throw away a start has been a disappointing trend in his career, and despite repeatedly having shown skill and mettle to rescue his side from precarious positions, Mathews has been dismissed when an easier period of consolidation has beckoned. He has gone past fifty 12 times, but has only but converted one of those half-centuries into a ton.
His Test batting has become more consistent over the last two years, a period in which he has maintained an average of 46.09 at No.6, despite only having made one hundred, against Australia at home. The team management has indicated that the long-term plan for Mathews is for him bat higher up in the order, where he will need to produce triple-figure scores regularly to justify his position. As the Boxing Day Test approaches, Mathews said he was aware of his poor conversion rate, and was working to rectify the problems that produced it.
"I have worked really hard with our batting coach Marvan Atapattu and recently I have been getting those 70s and 80s and I am cross with myself that I have not been able to convert them into big ones. I don't think I am doing the team any good by scoring 70s and 80s and getting out. It's not doing much good for myself as well. I need to convert those 70s and 80s into big ones."
Mathews came into the Australia series as the form batsman in the side, having made 210 runs in the two-Test series against New Zealand. He had made 74 in the first innings at Galle, batting alongside Mahela Jayawardene, before edging an innocuous wide delivery from James Franklin when the bowlers seemed tired and a century was there for the taking. He also perished in the 70s in the first innings in Hobart, when he missed a modest inswinger from Peter Siddle to be trapped in front. He made 82 in the second innings in Colombo in his previous Test, but was batting with the tail on that occasion, and was the last man out.
"It could be the concentration. I'm not saying that I'm losing concentration, but when I get to the 70s I just need to get prepared mentally, specifically to go that final distance. I am pretty sure that I get a hundred I will start scoring more hundreds."
Mathews is the heir apparent to the Test and ODI captaincy after Jayawardene quits the post after the tour of Australia. Mathews, who is already Twenty20 captain, said he was prepared for leadership if it was given to him, and would draw on the strengths of his predecessors as he set out to create a distinctive captaincy style.
"As I have always said that it's up to the selectors. If they think that I am ready for it I will take it. We will have to wait and see how it goes. Mahela has done a wonderful job. Those are not easy boots to fill and do as well as Mahela has done. It's a tough challenge, let's see how it goes. I am prepared for the role and if they offer it to me, I will take it.
"Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela have played huge part in developing youngsters. When I got into the team they welcomed us and made us feel at home. They gave us lot of confidence. They tried to help us out and Sanga has been amazing."
No one in Sri Lanka's squad has played a Test at the MCG, and Mathews said his team deserved top billing in the Australian summer, having played well across all three formats in recent years. Sri Lanka were finalists in the World Twenty20 in October, and had also been runners-up in the 2011 and 2007 ODI World Cups, as well as the 2009 World Twenty20. Their Test form has been less impressive, however, with Sri Lanka only having won one series in the last three years.
"I think we have earned it. We have played some really good cricket. Test, ODI or T20s you name it. We have got into four ICC finals in the last five years. It's an honour playing at the MCG on the Boxing Day."
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent