Champions Trophy 2013 May 27, 2013

Mathews embarks with plenty to prove


Both on and off the field, Angelo Mathews gives few emotions away. There was a time when he was among the team's most exuberant men, but experience, and the onset of responsibility, have seemingly dulled his zest for public elation. He is now equally stoic with a dozen microphones set before him.

As Sri Lanka departed for the Champions Trophy in England, Mathews had little to say, aside from trotting out worn-out assurances that the side would seek to capitalise on its strengths, and had set its sights on the semi-finals as their first target. Four months into his tenure, Mathews is already proficient in the art mastered by all jaded captains - that of talking without saying much at all. Only, Sri Lanka's problems in the approach to the tournament did not need vocalising. The IPL has laid them bare.

Nine of Sri Lanka's probable first XI travelled to India for the tournament, and only Thisara Perera and Sachithra Senanayake have returned with any semblance of form behind them. Of the three Sri Lankan captains, Kumar Sangakkara dropped himself from the side, mid-season, citing a poor run, while Mathews himself surrendered the captaincy when his own place in an ailing team became threatened. Mahela Jayawardene remained at the helm of Delhi Daredevils throughout the tournament, but the team finished dead last, with him having done barely anything with the bat to prevent it.

Among the others, Tillakaratne Dilshan failed to fire in five outings, while Jeevan Mendis and Kusal Perera largely warmed the dugout benches during the last two months. Lasith Malinga meanwhile, who had been among the IPL's safest bets in previous seasons, was as bipolar for his franchise as he has been for Sri Lanka in the last 18 months.

Over the past week, the team has arrived piecemeal from across the Palk Strait and headed immediately into Champions Trophy training sessions, to join the six non-IPL cricketers who have been at it for almost a month.

"I'm not really worried about our form," Mathews said. "The IPL is completely different to what we will play now. We are professionals, and we know how to prepare for a tournament like this. The boys are pretty confident of themselves. The guys who were in India and Sri Lanka have all trained well, and there was a training tournament here. When we prepare for the Champions Trophy, we put in a lot of effort, and as a team we are ready for this."

Despite his optimism, Mathews will know the team has further to go than if they had all embarked on their flight to England with runs and wickets to commend them. However, there is also truth in his assertion that the Champions Trophy is a different beast. Alongside Pakistan, Sri Lanka have been the most consistent side at major tournaments in the last six years, making it to four finals in their last six ICC events. Their results leading in to each tournament have not always suggested they would progress to the final.

On each of those occasions, the team has ignited at the beginning of the tournament, finding, as a collective, gears that elude them in many bilateral affairs. By the time the group stage is complete, they have been marked as favourites, and have ridden that momentum to the final, where vexing decisions and uncharacteristic nerves have hastened their ultimate demise.

Chief among the reasons for their sudden surge has, in the past, been leadership. Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara matured as cricketers before they were handed the reins, and have proven shrewd as captains in major tournaments.

Mathews may possess a steel temperament, but he has not yet shown himself as a canny leader, and his batting form is a law unto itself - failing abruptly just when formidable scores are beginning to cluster together. His bowling has been more consistent, and it is this that has helped make him a vital part of the Sri Lanka side since his arrival. He is yet, however, to truly establish himself on the international stage in the way that almost every Sri Lankan captain has before him.

The Champions Trophy is his biggest assignment yet, as captain, and his challenge has been magnified by the state of his own game, as well as those of the side's senior batsmen. If Mathews can stir up the familiar courage Sri Lanka teams have embraced in recent tournaments, he will emerge a secure leader, and repay the faith he has been afforded. If he cannot, he will remain a young captain on trial, with plenty still to prove.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 2, 2013, 6:34 GMT

    Hey Andrew, Do you remember that Arjuna got the captaincy when he was around 25 and he was sacked and Aravinda was made captain ? Then when Arjuna was made captain again he prospered. His first term was a arrogant one and many of us hated him for his know all attitude and in the second term he was the consultative captain. So give him a chance or else some would think you are one of Siriniwasan's son in laws.We cannot expect Mathews to be a Arjuna, Attapattu or a Mahela instantly. But in the time to come he may be among the best ever.

    Also remember he played for Sri Lanka Under 19 almost from the age of 15 and captain them for almost 2 years and SLC was wise to give him exposure all around the world as a youngster. Read some of his domestic and SL A records in England, Austrailia and South Africa to see why is a man for crisis. My only regret is he is not showing a little precaution in tests or else he would have had over 4 test hundred by now as against 1.

  • mano on May 30, 2013, 13:52 GMT

    If one thinks sensibly, Mathews is definitely not a leader and does not pocess the leadeship qualities of captain representing a nation. He is definitely a good player and has a long way to go to prove himself a Captain. Appointing him as the Captain is dfeintely a big blunder.

  • Dummy4 on May 30, 2013, 5:31 GMT

    this is ridiculous IPL is just a domestic competition don't compare its performence with ODI s. it's all about team work. for a example WI players performing well in IPL. but you will see how they perform as a team. and it's really unfair to expecting magic from Angelo. he just begin his role as a captain. I think as a unit Sri Lanka is very strong

  • Nimmie on May 30, 2013, 2:31 GMT

    quality batters the class of S'weera, M'thews,…that has all skills to demoralize any bowling attack, as middle-order. Due to this incompetency of Jokers the most reliable batters that I've mentioned last very often had to go to bat, when the Team was precariously placed, particularly on lively pitches, most of the times, causing immense damage, to the Team as well as to their reputation.During this Champions Trophy Tournament 2 of the seniors should be asked to wait out since they have done nothing to win a series during the last 5 years. As a fan I strongly feel their International careers should be sealed after this series.

  • Nimmie on May 30, 2013, 2:29 GMT

    M'thews is a proven schoolboy Cricketer that has been maintaining consistency from his age of 15. He is a batter that has full control over his stroke play. It has been not so with the over-hyped 3 seniors due to defective techniques they possess. 2 of the 3 do not know how to defend a total when it is really needed (can't stroke the ball all along the ground when it matters most, particularly on the leg-side) and the other the most over-valued has only very limited attacking strokes. This is the main reason why that SL couldn't win a single series even at Home apart from B'desh (2007) since Attapattu left from the top-order. The problem mainly lies with the Jokers (and the local media) of last 2 decades, because their reluctance (ignorance) to employ proven, quality Schoolboy Cricketers, at right times, they feel that reckless hitting is the most suited in all forms of the Game, therefore they have always employed reckless, risky stroke makers as front-liners and (2B CNTD)

  • Amila on May 30, 2013, 0:02 GMT

    SL players didn't score plenty of runs or took a lot of wickets during IPL (a T20 series). Lost one rain affected ODI to BD in the last ODI series. Because of those two reasons, SL will be out of the Champions Trophy at the Group stage. ;)

  • Dummy4 on May 29, 2013, 18:09 GMT

    Give him a chance will you? even Arjuna Ranatunga was not born in overnight. he also need experience, bitter truth of defeting. it's too early to comment anything on his leadership, of course you can comment on his batting, bowling form of recent past. leadership qualities normally come with experience. his recent form is pathetic.

  • Dummy4 on May 29, 2013, 17:58 GMT

    Sri Lanka have been able to make it to the final of ICC tournaments regularly so I think they will do well this time as well. They have a pretty strong limited overs team with very good batsmen at the top and some effective all-rounders. The bowling attack is also decent for ODIs. The players to watch out for will be Sangakkara, Chandimal, Malinga, T Perera and Kulasekara, if you ask me.

  • Harsh on May 29, 2013, 16:24 GMT

    Srilanka lacks a good leader, Mahela had he not stepped down would ve been better. Their experienced guys are miserably out of form from ipl. They will lose out against Aus and eng and even if they reach they'll lose to India/sa/pak. Good luck SL, ur gonna need it!

  • Arshad on May 29, 2013, 12:38 GMT

    @Shekhar Saminathan: Yeah you are spot on - all SL players barring T. Parrera conserved their energy in an excellent manner. They proved to be a bad joke in IPL 2013

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