Bangladesh v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Colombo, 4th day March 19, 2013

Optimism for Mathews as SL are reborn

This was the series where Sri Lanka finally shook off the Muralitharan-era and, with a young captain showing signs of potential, took a stride into the future

At the end of Sri Lanka's debut Test, "The baby," David Frith wrote, "had been delivered without complications." Sri Lanka have now won 66 Tests since that day, but on this tour, they are being reborn.

A flood of new personnel are either in, or on the cusp of the team, a pair of young batsmen have taken up the leadership, and the Murali-era, during which Sri Lanka reaped so much of their success, is a distant memory. Like in 1982, the new Sri Lanka have survived their first assignment without complications, but only just.

Since he assumed the captaincy, things have not worked out for Angelo Mathews as well as he would have hoped. A major contract dispute first threatened to derail the series a week before it began, and saw the players vilified by some. Then his side failed to secure an expected victory at their favourite venue in the first Test, when instruction from the team to prepare a good batting track produced, in Mathews own words, "absolutely a road". And at the Premadasa, Sri Lanka were made to fight hard for most of the first three days, before Bangladesh's efforts subsided dramatically on the fourth.

Mathews seems the kind of cricketer whose game is well insulated from outside pressure, but after the match was won, he admitted he had felt the heat after Galle. It may have been the seasoned hands, in Rangana Herath and Kumar Sangakkara, who did the most to deliver this win, but he and his young side have survived their baptism, and that, at least, will be a source of some relief.

"We were under pressure before the match," Mathews said. "We had to win this game and we knew that we could do it. The talent the guys have and also the professionalism the team shows is unbelievable. We have the potential. We just had to put our act together and try and do it on the field. We wanted to win the series 2-0. We couldn't do that but I thought we played some really good cricket in this Test and won."

As a captain, Mathews also emerged from the Tests with his reputation largely unscathed, though there were puzzling moves on his part. Suranga Lakmal was given the new ball in the first innings, when Shaminda Eranga would have been the more obvious threat to the batsmen. Then when Lakmal had bowled his first two overs for just one run, Mathews took him out of the attack and brought himself on. Lakmal rarely bowled as well as that for the remainder of the Test. Mathews trend of replacing bowlers who were getting into their work, worsened from vexing to frustrating by the end of the Test.

Mathews' field placings were largely impressive, occasionally even inspired

But his field placings were largely impressive, occasionally even inspired. Mid-on and mid-off stayed inside the circle through most of Herath's overs, and in each innings an advancing batsman had his outside edge beaten, and caught out of his crease. Having observed Sri Lanka's most gifted tactician, Mahela Jayawardene, at work over the last year, Mathews also seems to have a good grip on the art of in-out fields while the spinners are in operation. The bowlers had their fair-share of input too, and were more vocal about what they wanted than they might have been if Jayawardene was still leading, but there was enough of Mathews' authority on the final product, while he was careful not to overreach before he proved himself an astute strategist to his teammates.

Sri Lanka do not have any Test cricket until October, when they play Zimbabwe away, but Mathews was aware of the major challenges the Test side faced in the long-term. Save for Herath, Sri Lanka's attack veers from mediocre to toothless, and the three frontline pace bowlers and Mathews took only six wickets between them in the match, with Tillakaratne Dilshan required to bowl 25 overs in the second innings. The catching woes that plagued the side in Australia have not been corrected either.

"As a bowling unit we didn't perform well, and we have room for improvement," Mathews said. "The catching is very important in all three formats as well, and we need to show improvement there.

"As a team we can improve because after the retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan, it has been Rangana Herath who has figured largely in all our victories with many wickets. He cannot perform alone but can be successful because of the pressure created at the other end."

When the next Tests eventually roll around, Mathews may not have the support of the seniors who carried the team through this series. Dilshan is almost certain not to tour, and Sangakkara and Jayawardene may opt out, or be rested, as they have been on previous tours of Zimbabwe. The first series may be safe, but given the paucity of his attack, and the inexperience in his batting order, Mathews and Sri Lanka have a challenging road ahead, if they are to fulfil their ambitions of becoming one of the top three Test sides.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Janaka on March 21, 2013, 3:03 GMT

    Why not give chances to Akila Dhananjaya? He is a good talent, very skilled, but he is still young. Don't do the silly thing of keeping him for a long time without giving him enough matches. Deploy him in the true international games with Range boy, otherwise, the knowledge/experience transfer will not take place. We have to accept the fact that Range boy is getting old, and probably he will not play more than two years.

  • associate cricket fan on March 21, 2013, 2:22 GMT

    @Narbavi. Every captain has the right to aim high. So there is nothing wrong with it. So do u expect mathews to say like, " we want to go down to the bottom 3 in the rating?". Regarding SL not managing a win in SL. U guys always gave flat tracks whenever we toured india. They know murali can be dangerous on those turning wickets. Give us one of those wickets u gave it to the Aussies, then u will see difference.

  • Janaka on March 20, 2013, 12:27 GMT

    In the ODI/T20 matches, I wish Mathews will keep on sending Thisara in the top order, UNLIKE Mahela. Thisara is a master blaster, just like Sanath's initial period where he was just a bowler. Angelo is similar to Arjuna. With more experience, he will be the best Cricket captain on earth. But you really need to stay as who you are, that is, the all rounder, the pressure soaker, in simple, Arjuna's batsman role with an exception of being a bowler as well. Delighted about Mathews!

  • Janith on March 20, 2013, 12:20 GMT

    Dear Mathews I'm a Sri Lankan, but how are we gonna improve in tests and become one of the top 3 test nations, if we postponing the major test series against better opponents. SLC postponed SA's SL tour which includes 3 tests, for unknown reason. it's the best chance we got to crushed the SA in our own backyard and improve our ratings as well as the skills and confidence. please SLC don't ruin our Cricket, Test Cricket is the most precious thing

  • Cham on March 20, 2013, 10:45 GMT

    @narbavi, first u say SL never was in top 3, now ur asking for how long?? When SL lost to Aus 0-3 at home, the team was in transition and was led by worse SL captain ever(hashan Thilakaratne). Ur 'full strength team lost 0-8. Well at least we didn't loose to England 1-2 at home.

    @all the pesimists, this series too cud've been 2-0 in SL's favor if not for a 'highway' in Galle. When they play in a good pitch in RPS, the usual, FOUR-DAY result was there, just like in all earlier SLvBAN tests.

  • Dummy4 on March 20, 2013, 9:46 GMT

    @Sameer Tare. Well..! I accept some of your comments. Those are the bitter realities. But we fans are helpless when our Board does foolish things. Anywayt I hate your comment about Sanga and Magela. ICC has honored Sanga and the whole world knows. They are not "Gods" but true legands.

  • Dummy4 on March 20, 2013, 9:28 GMT

    @stormy16. Thanks for your realistic comment. It is sad to see even the Author too is childish. Proud to be a Sri Lankan but in last series the credit should go to BD. Without Sanga and Rangana, this team has a lot to learn. Happy to see Chandimal doing nicely, but others also should perform.

  • narbavi on March 20, 2013, 8:44 GMT

    @Ramansilva: Sir these negative comments come due to the poor overseas record your team has, Murali or Herath might help you to win an odd test at home, but its been time since you won a test series at home in a dominant manner, and you are the only top team in the world not to have won even a single test in india and australia!! These things need to change!!

  • narbavi on March 20, 2013, 8:41 GMT

    @Uppercut07: 2nd in 2009? For how many days? And i would like to remind you about your overall test record against australia, its one win and seventeen losses, atleast we got whitewashed in an overseas tour but you got whitewashed 3-0 by australia in 2004 at your own backyard

  • Cham on March 20, 2013, 7:41 GMT

    @narbavi, SL was the NO.2 TEST SIDE in the world in 2009! and also never suffered 0-8 loses ever!

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