Mathews backs SL to overcome pressure of decider
Formula and fight have been the cornerstones of Sri Lanka's limited-overs cricket for some time. Sri Lanka have stuck with the same plan for so long now, fans could draw up a checklist of their tactical manoeuvres for a game of cricket bingo.
There is often a fast start and an early wicket, when they bat. Then Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara join hands for a sometimes promising, often plentiful, stand. When Sri Lanka win, one of those two has usually crossed fifty. There is often then a middle-order failure, before someone - often Angelo Mathews - finishes the innings with several big blows. With the ball, Sachithra Senanayake bowls in the Powerplay, Lasith Malinga bowls length at the start and yorkers at the death, and Nuwan Kulasekara swings it in until the third seamer takes over.
The extended success of this game plan has fostered an air of calm around the Sri Lanka side, win or lose. Before the second ODI, Mathews said he would not seriously reshuffle his batting order. Now ahead of the decider, he says Sri Lanka need "nothing out of the ordinary" to seal the series, even against the South Africa pace attack.
"I think we don't have to do anything special," he said. "The way we handled their fast bowlers in the last two games was good. Their strength is pace but they have a couple of good spinners as well. In the last match, we played a good style of cricket, so we'll hope to do that again and win this match."
Sri Lanka have also come back from difficult situations on many occasions this year, doing so most dramatically in a must-win World T20 match against New Zealand and in the recent Test at Headingley. Having to win games on the trot to earn a series victory is nothing new, Mathews said.
"We've been in this situation more often than not - to lose the first game and be under pressure to perform in the second and third games. We've been there so many times and we've overcome those situations as well.
"We normally do perform well under pressure. It's just a matter of absorbing it. We've done pretty well in the past six months and I hope the team will continue to do so. Our batting clicked in the last match, even though no one got a hundred, I thought everyone contributed in their own way."
The wind at the Hambantota stadium often puts an uncommon spin on the cricket, with teams strategising not only on how to mitigate its effect, but also on how to use it to their advantage. Sri Lanka have often bowled inswing from one end and outswing fron another, with a similar plan for the spinners, depending on which way they turn the ball. With another windy day on the cards for Saturday, teams may tweak their game plans in light of the conditions.
"The wind is quite strong, so you never really know how the wicket plays," Mathews said. "It's the first time we're playing a day match here as well, and we have to adapt to that as cricketers. The pitch looks like it might play slow. No matter what the conditions are, we still have to play well."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando