IPL 2013 April 7, 2013

The Warriors chief

Angelo Mathews' career is in transition, and he is steadily coming to terms with his new role with both Sri Lanka and Pune Warriors

He smiled at the question. After a moment's consideration, he spoke about Sri Lankan players not being allowed to play in Chennai during the IPL. "There is a bit of a situation in Chennai and we have to refrain from going there. Politics and sport don't mix. We need to concentrate on our cricket and not worry too much about things happening around. If this was an issue between the two countries we wouldn't have been playing in the IPL," the Pune Warriors captain Angelo Mathews said.

Mathews' response wasn't as thoughtful as what his Sri Lanka team-mate Kumar Sangakkara expressed. But neither was it a casual response to what was a serious question. Had he been just a player, he may have shrugged off the question. But since he is captain, Mathews spoke responsibly.

For Mathews, 2013 has been a year of transition as a cricketer. After Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara decided to pass the baton to a younger cricketer, Mathews was picked as the man to replace them as leader. He was a long-term choice, who could provide stability. These were the key factors the selectors had in mind while appointing him ahead of Tillakaratne Dilshan, who had led Sri Lanka briefly a couple of years ago.

Mathews led Sri Lanka in the Test and ODI formats during the home series against Bangladesh. He did not disappoint, despite Sri Lanka losing their first-ever game to Bangladesh on home soil in the drawn ODI series.

Mathews blamed his bowlers for the defeat, but signs of his inexperience were evident when he showed impatience with bowling changes during the preceding Test series. But Mathews is willing to accept his and his team's shortcomings, and that's a good sign. On Friday, after the dispiriting defeat to Sunrisers Hyderabad, Mathews admitted his batsmen had played "too cautiously" and "choked" chasing a small target. So how does he rectify the error? How does he tell the senior trio of Yuvraj Singh, Marlon Samuels, and Ross Taylor that they need to play more responsibly?

"You've got to stay calm as far as possible. You need to gel with the boys because they are the ones who will make you a good leader. You have to listen to the boys because it is important to get all things on board. And then you take the positive stuff out of what they have said," Mathews said.

Desperate to rise from the bottom of the IPL table, where they finished over the previous two seasons since they became part of the tournament, the management appointed a new coach in Allan Donald, the former South African fast bowler. For Donald, aggression is the mantra. At the same time, he believes in the player understanding his role clearly. In that regard Mathews could be the ideal man to communicate the coach's message to get the job done.

Reading situations correctly, identifying the right go-to men, and keeping back-up plans ready, are what Mathews believes make a good leader. For him, Sangakkara ticks all those parameters, as witnessed on Friday evening, when Sunrisers won by 22 runs despite scoring just 126. His rival captain's strategy on the field, Mathews agreed, was good homework for him. "He has been a successful captain in the past for Sri Lanka and Deccan and Sunrisers now. He stays calm all the time and the way he handles the guys is amazing. There is a lot to learn from him. The way he carried out the bowling changes, the way he thought through the game, the way he read the situations was really learning stuff for me," Mathews said.

In January this year, Mathews led Sri Lanka successfully to a 2-0 victory in a two-match T20 series in Australia. Sangakkara had returned home due to injury, but Mathews displayed the right temperament to make sure he did not look out of place as a captain.

An impact player himself, Mathews recognised the primary priority for a player in Twenty20 was to retain focus at all times. "We need to have the focus right through the 20 overs. We can't just give in to the situations because we need to play some really good cricket to win against quality teams."

Mathews shows an aggressive spirit, especially evident at times in his batting, and is steadily coming to terms with captaincy. There is a long way to go, but just like Sri Lanka, the Warriors, too, might have chosen the right man to lead the team.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo