Mathews eyes third-seamer's slot
Angelo Mathews, whose new-ball spells played a big part in Sri Lanka's path to the final of the ICC World Twenty20, has said his intentions of shaping into a genuine allrounder motivated him to focus more on his bowling. Mathews capped a run-heavy domestic season with a call-up to the Test squad - for the first time in his career - in the series against Pakistan and is now eyeing the third seamer's slot in Galle, the venue of the first Test.
"Kumar Sangakkara wants me to improve on my bowling and if I play I could be the first-change bowler," Mathews told Cricinfo. "[Chaminda] Vaas has been helping me a lot."
Mathews said recently that he didn't bowl much in the past because of aches and pains and instead concentrated on his batting. He was the leading run-getter in the Inter-Provincial tournament but an ordinary season with the ball made him reassess his skills and potential. He spent the off-season period before the World Twenty20 working on his fitness and, in the nets, on his bowling.
"I wanted to be a genuine allrounder, I have been contributing a lot with the bat in the recent past," Mathews said. "I worked really hard on my fitness and spent a lot of time with my fast bowling coach. With the help of the seniors I improved a lot. I divided my training time into three parts each day and my focus was to improve each time."
Mathews was the surprise package in the closing stages of the World Twenty20, when captain Kumar Sangakkara's decision to unleash him with the new ball proved to be a masterstroke. In the semi-final against West Indies, Mathews bowled Xavier Marshall, Lendl Simmons and Dwayne Bravo to leave them reeling at 1 for 3 in the first over of the chase, a position from which they never recovered. The fact that he was an unknown entity, Mathews feels, worked in his favour.
"None of the batsmen had seen much of me before and didn't know what to expect," he said. "Chris Gayle is a devastating batsman and I just told myself that I was bowling to the batsman and not Gayle. The wickets were a little slow in England but the swing helped me. I didn't really expect to open the bowling in England."
He ended the tournament with five wickets in seven games and a reputation enhanced. However, his performance was the ball was in contrast to the domestic season just months earlier when he was hardly amongst the wickets. In the Inter Provincial first-class tournament, he took only one wicket in five games, and in the Premier League one-dayers, he went wicketless for 28 overs. He performed relatively better in the Twenty20 tournament, taking five wickets in as many games.
His A team coach in the last 12 months, Chandika Hathurusingha, recognised his potential as a bowler and was also instrumental in getting him into shape.
"He was not bowling much because of injuries, and we found he was not strengthening enough so we worked a lot in that area," Hathurusingha told Cricinfo. "He came into the A Team and he worked with me for about 12 months. We fast-tracked him from there."
The A tour of South Africa last August-September was when Mathews got more opportunities to bowl. He scored heavily, making 464 runs in seven games but managed only three wickets.
"During the A tour we used him quite a lot as a bowler," Hathurusingha said. "We placed a lot of emphasis on his all-round capabilities and we need players like him to maintain the balance in the team."
Hathurusingha, who's also part of the coaching staff of the national team, feels Mathews has the potential to develop into a genuine allrounder in the Test side but that process will still take time.
"He has to work on his fitness more than anything else. If he gets stronger, his speed will definitely improve. He is mentally very strong. What he needs to do is improve his sustainability. His progress was rapid over the last 12 months. I'm still working with him to advance his game both mentally and technically."
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo