England v Sri Lanka, 1st Investec Test, Lord's, 1st day June 15, 2014

Devotion to the collective sees Mathews thrive

Angelo Mathews' outlook has changed since taking on the captaincy and now has the chance to shape a new, exciting team

In 1950, 22-year-old Ernesto Guevara embarked on a motorcycle journey around Latin America. A medical student at the time, Guevara had had a relatively comfortable life, but in his travels, he was thrown into intimate contact with stark poverty and wanton injustice. The experience was cataclysmic. Guevara searched deep within himself, and was compelled to his core. Years later, 'Che' would go on to lead revolutions, however laudable or otherwise, that shaped an embattled part of the world.

No lives and few livelihoods ride on Sri Lanka's cricket, but in recent years, captaincy has defined the men handed the reins. Following a leadership exodus in 2011, Tillakaratne Dilshan accepted the post with elation, but his eight months in charge were brutal for him, and largely fruitless for the team, save for a Test win in South Africa.

Two years later, a new batch of selectors installed Sri Lanka's most promising rookie batsman in the T20 driving seat. Dinesh Chandimal was once on the way to scripting a village-boy-come-good tale for Sri Lanka, but responsibility fettered his free spirit. His poor run of form ended famously, when he dropped himself, to allow the team to win the World T20 without him. He now struggles to make the XI in any format.

Angelo Mathews was something of a free spirit too, once. There were days when he would surge out of the crease in the first over, to deposit a spinner into the stands. Other times, he would launch counterattacks from low in the order. Occasionally, these came off in spectacular fashion, as in an ODI in Melbourne in 2010, but many times, aggression would light his path to an early exit. Still, it was easy to get behind Mathews in those early days, when he was just another young talent, out to make a name for himself.

But then suddenly, he was being talked of as Sri Lanka's next captain. The mood changed. Blocking balls to get Chandimal to an ODI hundred at Lord's was a debacle. Worse was his conversion rate in Tests. Before February last year, when he became captain, he had crossed 50 on 12 occasions, and only gone on the three figures once. He had almost always played well enough to deserve his place, but the disappointment of falling short of glory was often writ on his face.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly where Mathews' cricket made a turn. The change was not immediate. But somewhere, in the months after being loaded with responsibility at 25, Mathews' outlook changed. Perhaps he introspected. Perhaps someone had a word. His destiny was tethered tightly to the team's now, and that realisation forced a shift.

The Mathews that emerged in the series in the UAE in January was a new man. On day one of that series, he seared 92 alongside the tail, after the top order had collapsed. On day four and five, he slow-cooked 157 not out to save the Test. The match in which his attitude and approach aligned completely with the team's requirement, he had earned his own highest score and aggregate.

At Lord's Mathews applauded on the balcony when Kumar Sangakkara completed his mission for a hundred. The next morning, perhaps he saw the taped-on placeholder on the honours board, with Sangakkara's name and score. But though he was near triple figures himself, he could not allow himself to be nervous, as Sangakkara had been. Squeezing the final partnerships for every run they were worth, Mathews turned down singles into the outfield, in his nineties. When he would have once nurdled his way through the last 20 runs, he was throwing his bat at good length balls, just outside off stump.

Cricket is a great leveller they say. In January, Mathews had a savage lesson on the perils of negative cricket in Sharjah, but here, the cricket gods had for him a reward. When he crashed James Anderson through the covers, he became Sri Lanka's eighth centurion at the venue. At the end of that knock, his batting average as captain was 82.44.

There is no doubt Mathews has a long way to go as a tactician. There were conservative declarations in Bangladesh, earlier in the year, and his decision to bowl first in this match has already come under scrutiny.

But he also has the chance to shape a new, exciting team. Shaminda Eranga's pinpoint spell either side of lunch on day four was further suggestion he is Sri Lanka's long-term spearhead, with Suranga Lakmal set to become a long-term new-ball partner. Young batsmen vie for middle order places, and young spinners turn heads in domestic cricket.

Devotion to the collective has seen Mathews unlock his talent like never before. If Sri Lanka are to become a top three Test side, he must play many more innings laced with self-denial, like the one at Lord's. Some days, he will not have a hundred to show for it.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2014, 8:50 GMT

    @landl47: Though some of your points are arguable, I'll point out one big mistake. You said that "Lakmal wasn't even selected." Actually do you know the reason for his exclusion? He was injured with a hamstring tear, that is why he was not included in the 11.

    Regarding spinners, we have spinners to carry on the job. If in a match there is only one place for a spinner, the selectors would select the best. So at the moment it is Herath. I think you remember (if not please check) the performance of our other spinners in the UAE and Bangladesh.

    Regarding your last line "the fact is that SL are facing a huge challenge once the old hands retire", when the great Ranatungas, De Silvas, etc. were also at their last stages this same line was repeated. I think you know what was happened after that. The same will continue.


  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2014, 6:39 GMT

    Matthews no doubt has matured as a tactician captain . His unruffled nature on the playing field irrespective of the team position has a salutary effect on his team mates and underlies his potential as a great captain in the making. I believe he is a captain more of the Dhoni mould than anybody else.

  • shane on June 16, 2014, 6:20 GMT

    If SL to climb over the ICC rank there's paramount task a head because simply SL bawlers not capable of taking 20 wickets whats more hurting is when they bat they bat like real tailenders who can't bat. End of the day apart from herath we got 3-4 players (passengers) who nither ball nor bat. How can u win a match having 3-4 passengers on a 5 day encounter?

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2014, 5:08 GMT

    One thing to add. I do not think it was the wrong decision to bowl in the first innings. If Prior got out and this and that would have happened, it could have been very interesting.

  • Lahiru on June 16, 2014, 5:04 GMT

    If sri Lanka hope to win test matches with four bowlers and one of them are Ku.lasekera, good luck to them..He is not more than a club cricketer to the opponents in test matches. You need to attacking bowlers to win matches and if lakmal is not fit then they should give an opportunity to Prasad who has done well in the practice match. Same is the case with Prasanna Jayawrdene and Chandimal. Chandimal is miles ahead as a batsman and not a bad keeper but they prefer to go with Prasanna Jayawrdene who is also a culb level batsman in test cricketer. he can't handle the pressure when batting at lower middle order and hence the place should be given to Chandimal who has scored a century in his final test innings.

  • saravana on June 16, 2014, 4:52 GMT

    After sanga and mahela lanka has more work to do in all fomats of the game .Mathhews single handedly cannot do evrything even in this england tour if you take out those 2 batsman lanka would have lost.

  • John on June 16, 2014, 3:46 GMT

    Mathews has come on a lot as a batsman (his bowling, on the other hand, seems to have deteriorated- a test average of over 70 gives away his lack of penetration). The side also seems to play well for him. However, at the moment the side remains almost completely dependent on Mahela, Sanga and Herath- a 37-year old and two 36- year olds. I see no signs of young batsmen vying for middle-order places, let alone the # 3 and 4 spots they willl have to fill when Sanga and Mahela retire. Herath is still the spinner because none of the others are good enough, even though he is a liability with the bat and in the field. Eranga had one good spell in this game and Lakmal wasn't even selected, so it's a bit premature to hail them as a new quick-bowling partnership.

    It's great to be optimistic and I wish Mathews all the best, but the fact is that SL are facing a huge challenge once the old hands retire.

  • Dummy4 on June 15, 2014, 23:39 GMT

    Andrew you sure hit the nails on their collective heads.For Sri Lanka to gain a semblance of test credibility, they should bat their 2d inings to their potential and not go in with the 'lets stave off defeat first ' mentality.Lets show these poms what our side can do . The pitch is not a minefield and the likes of Thirimanne, Happy Jayawardena,Karu,Kula can all show what they are made of here albeit after Sangers,MJ,Kaushal,Angie and co have had their fill of the carcass.Let's make it a memorable day for all the armchair cricketers and the Lords of the lords, the Sri Lankan way. JAYAWEVA.

  • Rizwan on June 15, 2014, 20:58 GMT

    MAHELA, one of the best tacticians ever , is the real captain. But since , there are no egos , its not a problem .

  • Josh on June 15, 2014, 19:21 GMT

    I'm a Sri Lankan fan and not an Indian, but I honestly think that MS Dhoni had a hand to play in transforming Angelo's cricket. How, is a long story. MS Dhoni is also the person who introduced Angelo to Somi Kholi (BAS) who makes Angelo's bats and also makes bats for Sachin Tandulkar, Hashim Amla, Virat Kholi, MS Dhoni, Alvero Peterson and Darren Sammy.

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