Struggling Mathews coming under pressure
In an ODI at Lords in 2011, vice-captain Angelo Mathews joined Dinesh Chandimal at the crease with 17 runs needed for victory and 13 for Chandimal to make a memorable hundred in his sixth innings. His words to Chandimal changed the young batsman's outlook and provided the period of play for which that match is remembered. "You go for your hundred, Chandi," Mathews said. "I'll hold one end up. We've got almost eight overs and I am confident I can finish this myself." So with his side on the cusp of victory, Mathews blocked out 20 of his 21 balls, to allow his partner the runs to pass the milestone.
Chandimal does not well remember the furious expression captain Tillakaratne Dilshan wore on the balcony as the young men pursued individual glory, and says not much was made of their hijinks after the win. Perhaps the seniors felt no harm was done and that as the batsmen matured, they would learn never to risk the team's wellbeing. Mathews and Chandimal are captain and vice-captain now. Both men have grown as cricketers, but not at the same rate. Their innings on day two in Colombo makes that difference plain.
For Mathews, his 16 from 38 was another of those frustratingly brief innings in which he had seemed to bed himself in, before a moment of misjudgement consumed him to leave a strong foundation unused. The slider to dismiss him from Sohag Gazi was a fine one, but you get good balls in Test cricket. The mark of a good batsman is to see those out. The 37 balls prior had given every indication that Mathews would help haul Sri Lanka into safety alongside Kumar Sangakkara, but as comfortable as he seemed, Sri Lanka fans have learnt not to make much of Mathews' starts. At 25, he is quickly nearing on a career's-full of wasted opportunities.
His demise brought Chandimal to the crease with Sri Lanka at 69 for 4, teetering on the slope to a first-innings deficit. Like Mathews, Chandimal set about settling himself in - nervily to begin with, but eventually he pieced his defence together and made his judgement precise. Until a back-of-a-length ball from Rubel Hossain skidded beneath his bat to rattle off stump, the bowlers rarely scored a psychological victory against him. When he departed, Sri Lanka had passed the visitors' total and were headed for a healthy lead of their own.
Chandimal's 102 was particularly encouraging for its composition. Like Mathews, he has in the past made a large percentage of his runs in fours, and as such neglected to rotate the strike effectively, like the more seasoned hands in the team are wont to do. At the Premadasa, he was denied his heavy reliance on boundaries by an outfield so lush, fielders in the deep were in danger of coming across wild Pokémon.
So he retooled his approach, and batted as he rarely has at the top level, in any format. Gaps were mined thoughtfully, and the rapid swishes shelved. Chandimal might hit the fielder once or twice but he persisted with the shot and the strategy until it pulled in his favour. Soon he was working the field with as much ease as the great at the other end who has marked his return from a two-month injury layoff with three consecutive hundreds. Chandimal's first, stuttering fifty came from 97 deliveries. His second, from an unfussy 72. He has played sparkling innings outside Asia but struggled vexingly at home. During his hundred, the sparse crowd at the Premadasa beheld a batsman improving mid-innings, before their eyes.
"My first tour was the World Twenty20 in the West Indies and since then I played about a year and a half away from home. During that time I wasn't able to train for Sri Lankan conditions as much," Chandimal said of his lean stretch at home. "I was inexperienced then as well and didn't quite understand things. Only recently have I had a chance to play a bit more in the subcontinent. There was a failing on my part as well, because I need to learn to adjust quickly, but now I'm training hard with Marvan Atapattu and I feel I've rectified that. I hope in the future I'm confident I can play well at home, so that the team can do well."
In 12 Test innings, Chandimal has crossed 50 six times. Two of those knocks came against South Africa on debut in Durban, where he helped a senior batsman hold the innings together in each dig. Sri Lanka's biggest Test win in recent years was his reward. The other away half-century came in the New Year's Test this year, when he batted alongside the tail in the second innings and remained unbeaten to give his side a small hope of victory, though it never came. Mathews meanwhile, has only hit fifty 12 times in 53 attempts - 23% of his innings, as opposed to Chandimal's 50%. Mathews also bowls, unsuccessfully so far in Tests, but Chandimal has kept in five of his seven Tests, and performed his second skill almost as impressively as his first.
As Lahiru Thirimanne also begins to grow in stature with the bat, Mathews is in danger of being leapfrogged by two younger, newer batsmen in the side. He was groomed for the captaincy for almost two years, and if he is to avoid being usurped by men whose education has come more swiftly, he must quickly begin amending an unconvincing record.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here