Mathews hopes to rise to unexpected challenge
Angelo Mathews has admitted he was not mentally prepared to take over as Twenty20 captain after Lasith Malinga resigned because of fitness problems. Mathews said he could not refuse the leadership once Sri Lanka Cricket offered it to him.
"I was not," Mathews said in Mumbai, when asked if he was immediately open to taking up SLC's offer. "But I have the experience of captaining for quite a few years now so it is a challenge. The selectors and Lasith have been planning for this tournament for a quite a long time so they worked together. And now it is a whole different situation, so I have to do the best and get the best out of the team which I have."
Though Mathews is Sri Lanka's Test and ODI captain, Malinga was appointed as Twenty20 captain after Sri Lanka won the 2014 World T20 in Bangladesh. Of Sri Lanka's 14 T20Is since, though, Malinga has played only six because of injuries. He played only one match this year - the Asia Cup opener - in which he was Man of the Match for taking 4 for 26 against UAE.
Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal have been stand-in captains in Malinga's absence and even now Mathews said he had accepted the captaincy only for the World Twenty20. "I don't really know what the thinking is after this. I was told to lead the team in the World Cup and how can I say no," Mathews said. "I can't let the team down and the country down. I will take this as a positive because I know they trusted me. I will try my best to do whatever possible to get to the top with the team that I have. They have given me the team that I wanted and now it is the matter of going out there and expressing ourselves."
Sri Lanka enter this tournament as rank outsiders. Having twice finished as runners-up, Sri Lanka won their maiden World T20 title in 2014, but the slide has been swift since then: they have won just four T20Is and lost 10. In 2016, Sri Lanka have lost seven out of nine matches.
Mathews said he felt like Sri Lanka had "not competed" at all during the disastrous Asia Cup campaign, but he was not too concerned by it. "Not going in as favourites, it is doing a favour for us. We have admitted that we haven't played good cricket in the Asia Cup. But the morale … well, the moale in the team is quite good. We can't say that we are all depressed and we are mourning about the Asia Cup. It is done and dusted. It is a new series. It is a fresh start for us. So we are hoping that we'll click. We are starting our campaign from tomorrow and hopefully we can go right till the end."
Mathews wanted his players to play with freedom and express themselves. "If you look from the outside, no one will give us a chance and that's a good thing because we can go out there and express ourselves and play with a lot of freedom. That is what I expect from the team. We want to take one game at a time, play with a lot of freedom because if we do play with a lot of freedom I am sure we are going to beat most of the teams. That is all I want from the team, they very well know what I expect."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo