Mathews wants SL youngsters to emulate seniors
Though Sri Lanka continue to perform satisfactorily in limited-overs tournaments, recent assignments in the Champions Trophy and the West Indies have helped make plain the challenges the side faces over the next two years. In both tournaments Sri Lanka leaned heavily on their experienced batsmen while the young talent largely failed to produce dividends for the considerable faith that has been afforded them.
Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan were the team's top scorers in the UK, with Lahiru Thirimanne, who made only 73 runs at 24.33, the best among the rest. Sangakkara and Jayawardene were also among Sri Lanka's top scorers in the Caribbean, while Dilshan's replacement Upul Tharanga led the list, thanks largely to a score of 174 not out.
All three seniors privately hope to continue at the top level until at least the 2015 World Cup, but have maintained in public that their time in the game is largely subject to form and fitness. With all three over 35, the national selectors had embarked on building a team for the future, but with Sri Lanka's young players unable to produce the kinds of innings their team can compile totals around, the home series against South Africa shapes as health-check for Sri Lankan cricket.
"We've done well in patches in the last two months, and when we did that it was the seniors that stepped up - guys like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene," captain Angelo Mathews said. "They've carried a lot of the burden and we need that experience in the side but what the youngsters need to do is look at how those guys prepare and how they focus and we all have to get that mindset right. It comes through experience, but the amount of matches the younger guys have played, they have some good experience now as well. We need to fine tune our performances.
"We need to have that mindset where you think you can be the next Mahela and think you can be the next Kumar. It comes with experience and a lot of hard work."
Plenty is expected of Dinesh Chandimal and Thirimanne, and it is the former's recent inability to make good on his initial limited-overs promise that has been most dispiriting for Sri Lanka's future hopes. Chandimal averages 18.19 in the last 16 months since the tour of Australia, having hit only two fifties in 28 ODIs. He has been given a sustained run in the top order after becoming vice-captain in February, but his place in the side is in question even as he prepares for the prospect of captaining the team in the first two matches against South Africa, in Mathews' absence due to an over-rate suspension.
"We all know how good a cricketer Dinesh Chandimal is and he doesn't become a bad player just because he has been unsuccessful in two tournaments - which can happen to any cricketer," Mathews said. "He is the vice-captain and he deserves his place. I am sure he will be among the runs soon, and if the selectors make him captain, he will do it well."
Thirimanne has not yet made his place safe either, but he has produced promising innings in the recent tournaments, despite being the first batsman to be moved around the order as the team's requirements change. His 57 in the Champions Trophy match against Australia set the foundation for Jayawardene's sparkling innings, and a 46 in the tri-series final against India helped Sangakkara build what would become a competitive total.
"Lahiru is one of our best up-and-coming players because he has never said no to anything. He always just gets on with the job even when it was hard work. We've sent him in when we were in trouble in England as well as in the West Indies, and he has responded brilliantly. He's got great character, and we need that.
"He has the potential to bat at number three in the long term. He has the composure, he's very calm and he makes good decisions. He's showed a lot of maturity and he's got a long future. I'm sure he can be the next Sangakkara."
Mathews played himself into some form in the Caribbean and more confidence in both disciplines has had a positive impact on his captaincy, he said. Mathews averaged 49.66 with the bat and 17.57 with the ball in the tri-series.
"When you're contributing to the team in any way, that does a lot of good for your captaincy. As an allrounder, it's especially good to get both wickets and runs and that helps you earn respect in the team as well."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here