ICC Champions Trophy 2017 June 11, 2017

Mathews the glue in Sri Lanka's rebuilding process

17

Amid Danushka Gunathilaka's blazing recall, Kusal Mendis' elegance, Kusal Perera's hamstring injury and Asela Gunaratne's match-clinching cameo, his went a little unnoticed. Angelo Mathews was steadfast in Sri Lanka's superbly-paced chase against India, a reassuring presence for an innings that could still have gone wrong despite the excellence around him.

Without their captain, Sri Lanka are a shadow of a team. Most sides have a player whose absence alters their dynamic significantly, but few to the extent of Mathews with this rebuilding Sri Lanka side. It often feels as though his hamstrings, and various other parts of his body, are held together by medical tape, painkillers and sheer bloody-mindedness. All available means need to be taken to keep him on the field; if the bowling has to go by the wayside as a consequence, that would be a small price to pay.

The match against India was his first ODI for 10 months, leg injuries of various descriptions keeping him sidelined since the series against Australia. Prior to that he had tried to keep a brittle side afloat against the emerging power of England, and earlier in 2016 he had almost hauled Sri Lanka over the line on one leg in the World T20 group match against the same opposition.

In Sri Lanka's opening game of the Champions Trophy against South Africa, they made a thundering start to the run chase through Niroshan Dickwella and Upul Tharanga, but there was a callowness - and often headlessness - about what followed. Against India there was a chance that the chase could have been knocked off course after the back-to-back run outs of Gunathilaka and Mendis. But Mathews strode in, calmed any tensions and, by and large, allowed his partners to do the fun stuff - an audacious flick over fine leg against Umesh Yadav being an exception.

The last three years have taken Mathews' one-day batting to new heights. Since the start of 2014, his average from 61 matches is 50.08; in the 91 games before that it had been 34.17. He became captain in early 2013 and though there was never a period that could be classed as a slump, it took a little time to marry the two roles together.

"Even though I'm the captain of the team, I've always tried to contribute as a batter, a bowler and on the field because I'm another player when I get onto the field," Mathews said. "So my contribution is also very important to the team. I try my very best to try and concentrate on what I have to do rather than thinking about the captaincy and too many other things happening. So I've always focused on what I have to do and the job at hand.

"I've worked extremely hard, just like the others. It's just, I think through my experience I'm learning the game a bit more now. I'm slowly understanding the game a little bit better than what I used to. I'm learning every day."

Mathews has had to make up for a gaping hole in Sri Lanka's middle order after the retirement of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene © AFP

He is also having to nurse the side through a period of era-defining change. One-by-one the trio of batting heavyweights - Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan - have moved aside. Of the players that made Sri Lanka one of the powerhouse one-day sides, only Lasith Malinga from the original troop remains and he is a slower, lumbering, creaking version who may not have many more miles in the legs.

It is a long-term process to fill those positions. In Kusal Mendis they have one who, with a fair wind, can have a superb career and Gunathilaka appears to have something worth persevering with (you wonder if there was no space in the original squad for him) but consistency could still be some way away.

"As I always say, it's very easy to captain a side when you have the Sangakkaras, Mahelas, Malingas, all these guys, and the challenge began really after they retired. Lasith is obviously still with us, but Sangakkara and Mahela, when they retired, it created a lot of vacuum in the team, and we had to sort of pursue with the younger players and give them confidence," Mathews said.

"It's not easy - when you lose a few games here and there, it's never easy. The pressure is on. It's just that you've got to try and deal with the pressures or try and stick with them, give them a lot of confidence. Yes, we know the talent that we have in the dressing room. It's just that we need to try and stay positive with them and give them a lot of opportunities and give them a longer run being consistent with them. We obviously will see more results in the future."

The run chase against India offered some encouragement for the rebuilding process this Sri Lanka side are going through. But there remains one man who holds it all together, and will need to do so for some time to come.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • CRICFAN564789 on June 12, 2017, 18:14 GMT

    Mathews the glue melted Third Global Stage tournament (2015 WC, 2017 CT, T20 WC ) for SL under his hands! Now his loosing record imroved to over 85% by loosing 18th series from 22 series played under Mathews in all formats (winning just 3) in past two yrs. Keep it up SL.,, :))

  • CRICFAN564789 on June 12, 2017, 16:24 GMT

    Mathews leading the side to another defeat .... Asela is a wicket taking bowler and why he was not utilized after just one over just because yielded 9 runs? Last match he took a vital wkt for 7 runs and never utilizes the most economical wicket taker again wasting his 7 ovrs unused... Pure luck won the match

  •   Piwithuru Sannasgala on June 12, 2017, 14:13 GMT

    SL badly missed opener Upul Tharanga at the top to make a match out of this with another sparkling first wkt stand with Dickwella to set a decent target on this challenging deck that came across for the first time in this CT series ! We got really lucky to win the toss to chase in last one on the least difficult wicket in this CT seen so far. As usual all SL batters flourished on that dead strip misserably failed again on a lively deck failing to make any impact on that superb Dickwella inning. Similar to the match vs SA where UT's superb effort limiting SA to 299 and trying to win that match with a superb 57 was wasted by 5 brittle batters failed to contribute 96 runs collectively, If not SL would have won that first match vs SA and already in the Semis!

  • GNair on June 12, 2017, 9:57 GMT

    Get set Go.. Rock on Lankans. want to see you in Finals with India. very well knowing .. will be more tougher to have you there.. as Indian team prefer to hunt the green jerseys.

  • Udendra on June 12, 2017, 9:17 GMT

    Yes, Tharanga is not a versatile player nor a captain. Mathews just needs to be more aggressive and innovative.

  • Black_Rider on June 12, 2017, 8:11 GMT

    Upul is clueless as captain. Mathews is the best we have at the moment. Hope we win few games. It'll be good for him and the teams' confidence

  • Kotuwegogoda on June 12, 2017, 6:27 GMT

    Mathews presence instill huge confidence in the team. Here he is leading the team as a batsman and game changer. Team misses his ability to send gentle medium pace overs. He has proven bowlers to handle that side. Fielding has shown improvement and need to save 20 to 30 runs with agility.

    Then, Pakistan is a team that is very unpredictable and can take any side by surprise. That happened against Proteas. Now two Asian sides will battle it out to see who will remain and who will exit ?

  •   Piwithuru Sannasgala on June 12, 2017, 2:36 GMT

    Over 3 years of rebuilding process Mathews is also the glue behind 17 series losses across all formats including 2 WCs (2015 WC and t20 WC) from 21 series SL played under Mathews ( just 3 series he won for SL ). Mathews the batter is superb in middle order but unfortunately Mathews the skipper is a total failure with game plans, bowling allocations, field placements , team selections and proactive thinking. SL need lot of luck and extraordinary performances from some individual players to pull off matches from jaws of defeat in rare wins.

  •   don_nalin on June 12, 2017, 2:12 GMT

    Upul should've groomed as captain after dilshan. IMHO.

  • Deepfreezed on June 11, 2017, 23:53 GMT

    He is the older version of Stokes. His body folding together is the issues now. Rest is just normal for him.

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