Sri Lanka in Bangladesh 2013-14

Safe Mathews could be more creative

Andrew Fidel Fernando in Mirpur

January 25, 2014

Comments: 26 | Text size: A | A

Angelo Mathews at the Sri Lanka nets, Dubai, January 6, 2014
Angelo Mathews has been conservative in his year at the helm © AFP
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Players/Officials: Angelo Mathews
Series/Tournaments: Sri Lanka tour of Bangladesh
Teams: Sri Lanka

If a man does not risk much in life, he cannot complain if his rewards are also feeble. As Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews prepares his men for a new Test series less than a week after their last one concluded, he will perhaps have had a moment to contemplate this truth. In Sharjah, his team had striven for safety above all else and found on day five they could not have travelled a more hazardous route. Though he had a monumental series with the bat in the UAE, Mathews knows his captaincy is still on trial, as he begins in Bangladesh.

If he has valued security in his 12 months at the helm, Mathews has had just cause to do so. He is by far the least experienced Sri Lanka captain since the early 80s, and the path of least resistance must appear tempting to a leader who does not yet have a forceful mandate to rule. In a year, Mathews has not caused obvious strife for the board, nor made startling selection calls. In public, he has been reserved - even bland. Sri Lanka is among the most difficult cricket teams to captain largely because numerous interests must be appraised off the field, but Mathews has negotiated his first year without major incident because his every move has been tempered by caution. Like he does in most innings, perhaps Mathews seeks to become accustomed to the nuances of his surroundings before venturing aggression.

He is also adhering to the script that had been laid out for him before he took the job. Mahela Jayawardene stepped down from the captaincy claiming it was time a young leader took charge while the senior players remained in the team - a sort of captaincy with training wheels with the adults running alongside to ensure no bones are broken - and Mathews has largely played the part, steering along a sturdy course as the wiser heads provide advice when they felt the team was veering off track.

It is a strange and awkward set of circumstances for Mathews to contend with, because as long as Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara are around, he will never monopolise respect in the dressing room. As perhaps the third-best candidate to lead the side, he cannot impose himself on it as definitively as he might like, either.

And it is in imposing himself is where Mathews has been most lacklustre, both on the field - where pre-fabricated, cookie-cutter field settings have been his hallmark - and when speaking about his team's cricket. Challenging Mathews to take a strong point of view is an exercise in futility, most reporters have learned. Ask him what weaknesses he feels Sri Lanka can exploit in the opposition, and in response, a line about guarding against complacency and the class of the opposition is marched out. Ask him what he feels about any burning cricket issue of the day, and he will deflect the question, or defer it to some higher power.

Recently, Mathews was asked to speak on Prasanna Jayawardene's impact on the team, and though he began his reply with intent, claiming "Prasanna has the best hands…", he stalled as he measured the next phrase, then chose the conservative ending - "…going around". You sensed what he really wanted to say was "Prasanna has the best hands in the world" - certainly not an outrageous statement, given it has been uttered many times before (it is hard to get Sangakkara to stop saying it). It is also commonplace for players, particularly captains, to speak glowingly about team-mates, even when completely undeserved, which in this case, it is not.

Mathews' fear of doing and saying the wrong thing seems at present to be suffocating any desire to take a stand, be creative, or put himself and his team on the line. Ahead of the series against Bangladesh, he gave a typically vanilla statement on what he expects in the next four weeks. "Bangladesh have improved vastly in the past few years and we're not going to take them lightly at all. We're not going to be complacent. We're going to go hard at them, play positive and win."

There are signs Mathews can eventually grow into the kind of leader Sri Lankan require. As they lack a menacing attack at present, conservatism suits the team well, though they know now the perils of straying to negativity. Beyond his own batting, which appears to have benefited greatly by the responsibility, Mathews also coaxed calmness and dependability from his team-mates when he batted alongside them in the UAE. Dinesh Chandimal, Prasanna Jayawardene and Dilruwan Perera all made their best scores in the series in Mathews' company. There is no doubt Mathews has far to go tactically, but equally, there can be no question that as long as the seniors are unwilling to take back the reins, he is the best man to lead Sri Lanka.

Two days before the Dhaka Test, Mathews was asked what he thought of the proposals set to be discussed by the ICC board in a few days, and he led with "that's not for me to decide". His opposite Mushfiqur Rahim, who has played the same number of Tests as Mathews and is roughly the same age, instead delivered a fearless critique of the proposals - the first among current cricketers to do so. Mushfiqur has already shown strength and audacity on the tour. The next month will reveal if Mathews will shed his fear of failure and do the same.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by MelbourneMiracle on (January 27, 2014, 7:06 GMT)

Mathews atleast top scored in the UAE series and became the man of the series as Captain. What did Chandimal is doing as v.captain in the test & the 1 day team? And as the captain of the T20 team? Let's talk about him as well! Cricinfo please publish!

Posted by imtiazjaleel on (January 27, 2014, 6:26 GMT)

Losing or Winning is a part of a game but surely negative approach and mindset should not be the part of the game. Every match should be played with same intensity of winning it, otherwise after winning the series there should be no matches played.

Posted by joseyesu on (January 27, 2014, 5:11 GMT)

Atleast he has Jayawardene, Sangakara, Dilshan and Herath around there to lend a support. Is not captaincy thrusted on him? Otherwise SL needs to find peoples like GSMITH. In my observation, SL did not have new impact players like CAnderson, DMiller, Kohli, Faf, Bailey, Simmons to shoulder the responsibility. Looking forward for 96-2000 period SL's

Posted by   on (January 27, 2014, 0:08 GMT)

You cannot blame Mathews entirely for the debacle in the last test. Didn't he get advise from so many coaches, support staff and the senior players in the team, when the match was slipping away? It seems like Mathews has to face the music alone. true he is the captain who gets the credit or the flak. I am yet to see that the coaches or seniors like Sanga or Mahela made any comments on the defeat and took a team stance. All in all credit to Mathews for coming through this mostly his critiques from his own country. Good luck SL

Posted by jb633 on (January 26, 2014, 23:02 GMT)

A nice balanced article. I like Matthews as a cricketer and he will learn a lot from the UAE third test. No doubt he had a tactical shocker but he will take lessons, grow and learn. Tactical captaincy does not come naturally to many, I think Cook, Matthews, Misbah, Dhoni and Smith all favour a conservative approach. It is easy to say from the commentary box that the captain should attack at any moment but when it is your team and the results will fall solely upon you it is not so easy. A good cricketer and I hope one day he will turn into a good captain. Time is on his side.

Posted by KingOwl on (January 26, 2014, 20:09 GMT)

While I was critical of Mathews's risk aversion earlier, I must add that this is not just his fault. Mahela, Sanga - they are both like that too, even more so given their far greater experience. I just don't see great captaincy material among the current lot. SL needs a Virat Kohli type personality - a young talented man who is a bit cocky and a bit over confident - when such people mature, they can become great leaders. Mathews is hugely talented, no doubt. I have a feeling that he is confident in his ability too, although it is not clear to the viewers. A captain needs to show his confidence overtly, so that it rubs on others as well.

Posted by TheKeeper on (January 26, 2014, 16:26 GMT)

I think Mathews is doing very well as a captain. Sure, he is not prone to ego-boosting on-field theatrics, provocative punchlines or assertive one-liners, but he sure knows his cricket and has all the characteristics of a great captain in the making. Mathews is being very clever and in not rocking anybodies boat, is doing the best for his career and also the future of SL cricket.

Posted by MaruthuDelft on (January 26, 2014, 14:39 GMT)

Matthews is unacceptably slow. In ODI's too he takes a long time to get going. These are symptoms of aged sportsmen? Matthews has gone old! Drop him. Jayawardena too has become very slow; drop him.

Posted by helidz on (January 26, 2014, 13:04 GMT)

this is not a specific issue of mathews. sri lanka is definitely missing there aggression in the field. i do think that it was a result due to the management and the coaching staff and the method of team management has a definite influence in this defensive approach of our players. if you look at the player like mathews, chandimal etc. they all came as naturally aggressive players. but while they have been a part of the squad all the things have been changed around. i dont know how we can define it as maturity. if he is a aggressive player, team management should not change the mentality of them. result of that now sri lankans are lack of aggression. i hope that the god will help us to keep kusal equals to kusal. and kusal should be include in the test playing 11 if sri lankans want to win test matches just like aussies working with warner. but regarding the answer mathews given about the icc problem, i think he done it smart. :) anyway good work andrew. nice article. keep it up.

Posted by Herath-UK on (January 26, 2014, 11:16 GMT)

Of course his tactics failed this time & we lost. However take the overall performance by Mathews as a captain during the whole series; because of him only we escaped defeat in the first Test & he was instrumental in winning the second. He was the MOS! It is said Mahela was not in the field at the time;was it because Mathews was not listening to his advice, so left it to Mathews to do on his own or Mahela just wanted to save his skin in a sinking ship?Those two seniors should be more involved with decision making & what about Hashan,Marvan ,Vass etc, do not they send ' advice in drinks'.When runs were leaking was Mathews not given advice on defensive tactics etc??Hashan was a very defensive chap as a captain, was there any involvement of him here??

Posted by mark2011 on (January 26, 2014, 10:40 GMT)

This negative approach didnt come only in last test has been for last 6-7 years I am seeing. This is a only a one big occasion it get exposed. Specially in a match where u have 87 runs lead whethr to draw or win SL shudl have scored runs with positive intent which may have eventually lead to if not for win atleast for a draw which would give them the series win. But poor imagination and inability to realise the risk of not scoring runs and getting out cheaply allowed the opposition to win the macth. SL has done this in many ODIs in last 6-7 years. Everytime after loosing a wkt SL go into a defensive shell and allow bolwers to dominate & let the match go away. They cant maintain the intensity required in the match due to too safe and negative apporach.. Best defence is Attack.. which was the aproach of Great SL batsman Aravinda De Silva who was succeed in doing so.Unfortunate that current SL side has forgotten that. Mahela & Sanga is responsible for that.

Posted by   on (January 26, 2014, 9:30 GMT)

When you make a mistake, you have to be blamed and you have to be able to take the punch and go on. I believe Mathews made a big mistake, and it is quite right to punch him in the face for that. Still how he will take that and become stronger (or weaker) will define the character he has as a sportsman. I still am not convinced that he has enough leadership talent to be a future leader (I sincerely hope he proves me wrong), but I have no doubt he has all the ingredients to be one of the best all rounders and middle order batsmen in the world. In short, I believe he is gonna be a great match winner for SL in the future. If he can iron out his fundamental errors and look forward, he can become a great captain too. But at the moment it doesn't look so. And if he does not prove his worth at the helm it would be wise for team and for Mathews himself to look for better alternatives soon. (No matter how thin they are)

Posted by Bdcricketdebator on (January 26, 2014, 8:47 GMT)

You just cant blame mathews.what is sanga and mahelas role as senior players.couldnt they have given some advise in that test.mathews will only learn from playing more taugh matches against tough oppossiton.

Posted by roshrosh on (January 26, 2014, 6:39 GMT)

Common guys... He made a mistake which I am sure he will realize and eventually correct him self. We are all barking at him for drawing the series by losing the last game. If not for Mathews we would have lost the series 2-1. He managed the young team very well throughout the series in UAE. And I believe the team believes in Mathews too and it shows the way they rally around him. Mahela / Sanga had Murali, Vaas, Malinga in their team... Mathews does not have any of them... More than Mathews the negative tactics are played by the SLC... who deprive this team from playing quality cricket (test cricket) which is the essence of building up a quality team.

Posted by   on (January 26, 2014, 5:41 GMT)

I don't think a good captain is someone who should be able to emanate emotions. He has a calm head and doesn't panic or react much. It may have backfired on the last day of that test. But this trait was the one which brought a lot of maturity and stability to the team. This conservative approach, in my view is good for the team provided that we don't stray into negative mindset.

Posted by Lion_96 on (January 26, 2014, 5:13 GMT)

@Herath UK, how can u not totally blame Matthews for the last Test. 'Any captain would prevent the opposition winning'. One way you can do that is to make sure u win the match yourself. I don't think Clarke was preventing ENG from winning when AUS took lead in the Ashes series. I don't see uw winning too many Test Series, if Mathews continues with his conservative methods. SL, under Arjuna Ranatunga, didn't win Test Series in NZL (1994) & PAK (1995) by 'preventing opposition from winning'. Mathews is most conservative captain SL have had since Hashan Thillekeratne retired in 2004.

Posted by vkumar_086. on (January 26, 2014, 5:09 GMT)

Mathews may have weaknesses but far far better than the overrated Dhoni and Indians. India is famous for getting humiliated non stop. Mathews will soon bring many miracles dispelling myths which prevail today.

Posted by samincolumbia on (January 26, 2014, 4:07 GMT)

He is just an average player who looks good due to the lack of talent among the rest of the team!

Posted by KingOwl on (January 26, 2014, 1:02 GMT)

People rarely change personality type. Those who are risk averse, remain so. I do not see Mathews becoming a risk taker all of a sudden. I also don't see him becoming a natural leader of men all of a sudden either, although I wish he would. Charismatic leaders are a rare breed. Our culture does not produce too many risk takers either. We will have to compensate for lack of natural leadership with our not inconsiderable talent.

Posted by espncricinfomobile on (January 26, 2014, 0:15 GMT)

He is not captain material and trust me he won't be our captain at WC 2015. He is young but is he fit and enthusiastic? Have you seen him put a high five make few smiles in the field? Have you seen him run to the field when it's chance to bat? Forget about his captaincy but do you think he is showing ample skills as a youngster in the field?

Posted by Herath-UK on (January 25, 2014, 21:06 GMT)

Well I cannot blame him totally for the negative tactics he adopted as that is the norm any captain would have done to prevent the opposition winning. Sri Lanka should not try to play the nice guy image that's long gone. If someone saw the shenanigans that went behind the recent ashes series who would say that was cricket. He played very conservatively to save the team but the fault was he was made to believe the pundits who predicted it would be very difficult to bat on the fourth innings in a crumbling pitch. However what the Pak batters showed was if you take a positive attitude to go for runs, they are there. Our batters crumbled because of mental apprehension than due to the difficult pitch.Had our team known it would be easy batting,they would have scored freely but they did not test the pitch without fear. However he has shown tremendous improvement in batting since becoming the captain & guiding the tail enders which is very positive.

Posted by   on (January 25, 2014, 20:50 GMT)

Very fine piece pf writing in a world that needs excellent cricket writing.

Posted by yorkslanka on (January 25, 2014, 19:34 GMT)

yes correct and dont forget he is still a young man. He will take time to mature into the role of captaining his country but i know he is the man to lead us . good luck Anji and Sri Lanka..

Posted by jerryman on (January 25, 2014, 19:11 GMT)

will need to play with a better strike rate to look for a win. Its better to play for a win than trying for a draw. Fortune favors the brave.

Posted by   on (January 25, 2014, 19:09 GMT)

Another fine assessment of a complicated set of circumstances. Keep it up Andrew.

Posted by   on (January 25, 2014, 19:08 GMT)

Quite well articulated Andrew. However, Sanga an Mahela needs to stick with the team for few more years in this nervy period.SL should watch out for shamsur the opener, mominul and shohag gazi as an all-rounder.

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