Mathews tips seamers to sweeten Jayawardene's farewell
For almost 20 years, Mahela Jayawardene has captured the Sri Lankan public's imagination. Of the schoolboy cricketers over the last 30 years, Jayawardene was perhaps the only player to match the island-wide fame Arjuna Ranatunga had achieved in the early 1980s.
Angelo Mathews would have been making his first forays into the sport when Jayawardene was still playing for Nalanda College, and he would almost certainly have known Jayawardene's name. There were few in Colombo who had not. As such Mathews is intent on giving the senior batsman the farewell his career deserves.
"We sent Sanga and Mahela both off in a magnificent way in Bangladesh by winning the World T20, so if we can send him off by winning all four Tests, against South Africa and Pakistan, we will do our best to do so," Mathews said. "He's been tremendous for us in the past 15 years or so scoring a lot of runs his contribution to the team is unbelievable. He's decided that he is going to quit so we got to respect it and move on. It's always good to have him in the team but when he has decided we can't really go against it.
"He made his decision a couple of days ago, and he had a chat with me as well," Mathews said. "Every good thing comes to an end and its going to be a massive loss. He also had a chat with the whole team yesterday. To fill his shoes it's going to be a tough challenge for all of us. We got a bunch of lads who we can have faith in we just have to go with it."
Sri Lanka have strived to prepare for Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara's exits by grooming young batsmen over the past 18 months, but the team will nonetheless feel Jayawardene's departure keenly, Mathews said. An injury to their usual Test keeper will allow Sri Lanka to play another young batsman against South Africa - most likely to be Dinesh Chandimal, who will also take the gloves.
A pitch Mathews said was "the typical dry Galle wicket" which will suit two spinners may aid him in his ambition of sweeping the series against South Africa, as will an improving pace attack. Sri Lanka last played a Test in Galle in March last year, and had been unable to take 20 Bangladesh wickets on an unusually flat surface. The pace attack has since made significant headway however, setting up victories in Dubai, Mirpur and Headingley this year.
"Starting from Pakistan in Dubai, I had the two fast bowlers - Shaminda Eranga and Suranga Lakmal - and later Dhammika Prasad. They all bowled extremely well. They haven't played a lot of Test match cricket but the way they bowled showed a lot of maturity and a lot of confidence in themselves. It's great to have a few guys like that, because when you throw the ball to them, you always know what you are going to get. I'm very proud to have them in the team."
Sri Lanka's hopes for the tour suffered a significant blow when they gave up their first ever home ODI series to South Africa, but Mathews remained confident his team would move past that disappointment. "We didn't deserve to win the ODI series, but we got a fresh bunch of about 6-7 players who have joined the squad, and we are going to start off fresh.
"We know the conditions but we've got to play good cricket to beat them. South Africa are a balanced team. Hopefully the guys will turn up, sharpen their game and win."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando