Angelo Mathews ready for Test captaincy
Angelo Mathews has expressed enthusiasm for the leadership role and appears ready to take over the captaincy once Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka's current Test captain, steps down. Jayawardene accepted the post reluctantly in January and has seemed eager to be rid of the reins ever since. He has hinted he will step down after the tour of Australia as long as Sri Lanka avert disaster there, and his deputy's apparent willingness to take over will only make that move easier.
Mathews is already Sri Lanka's Twenty20 captain and has been groomed for the role in the longer formats. He arrives in Australia in form, having been the team's top-scorer in the home series against New Zealand, and has seen his Test batting bloom over the last 18 months. He has been the vice-captain in all formats since July 2011, and in the SLPL, he led the Nagenahira Nagas to the final of the competition.
Mathews' unflinching attitude and an expanding reputation for even-headedness under pressure have made him appear much more like captaincy-material than at the end of Kumar Sangakkara's tenure, when he was considered for the role, but lost out to Tillakaratne Dilshan.
"I think that's totally up to the selectors - if they think I'm ready for the captaincy, I'm ready," Mathews said. "It doesn't really matter for now because Mahela's been a great captain for years and I think he's been serving the country for decades. But if the selectors think I'm ready - it's up to them."
If he does succeed Jayawardene after the tour, and there are no retirements, he will lead a side with three former captains and several other players senior to him in age, if not always in international experience. At 25, Mathews may be leading one of Sri Lanka' oldest Test sides, but he said he sees the older players' presence as a boon, rather than a challenge. Indeed, the prospect of having time to mentor Mathews in the initial phase of his captaincy has been the reason Jayawardene has cited for wanting to relinquish the captaincy before he retires.
"When I initially got into the team, there were so many captains. Sanath Jayasuriya was there, and now we have Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela. They teach us a lot and we can always go back to them to ask questions, and they're always willing to help out. There's a lot we can learn from Mahela."
Mathews has been penetrative with the ball in ODIs, but has performed more of a holding role in Tests, where he has been economical, but far less incisive. Jayawardene has said Mathews will continue to be kept low in the order to accommodate contributions with the ball, and Mathews was keen to bowl more overs in this series.
"I've been managing myself on different conditions, and Mahela has been pretty good with that. In Australia, the conditions might suit my bowling and I'm hopeful of bowling plenty of overs."
Mathews also offered some insight into the team's makeup for the first Test, which begins on Friday, marking out left-hander Dimuth Karunaratne as the more likely partner to Dilshan at the top of the innings, over Tharanga Paranavitana. Karunaratne made his debut against New Zealand in Galle last month, hitting a run-a-ball unbeaten 60 in the second innings, after failing to score in the first.
"Dimuth is a very aggressive player, he always looks to score runs, while Paranavitana has been having a pretty bad run in the recent past. I think Dimuth has a slight edge, but we haven't decided on anything."
He was less hopeful of Dinesh Chandimal's chances though, despite his good ODI record in Australia. "Unfortunately I can't see Chandimal getting into the team for this Test. We'll have to see how it goes with the batters. He's been batting really well in the nets, so it's just that we won't be able to give him a chance this time."
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent