Mathews targets improved rankings
Sri Lanka's new Test and ODI captain, Angelo Mathews, has said he aims to arrest the team's slide in the ICC rankings, and hoped to count his side among the best in the world in both formats in the next few years
Mathews succeeded Mahela Jayawardene, who stepped down after the tour of Australia, after spending almost two years as vice captain in all formats. Dinesh Chandimal was named his deputy in Tests and ODIs and captain of the Twenty20 team. Sri Lanka have been the top-ranked Twenty20 side in the world since their run to the World Twenty20 final in September, but slipped down the Test and ODI rankings after having been second on both tables in 2009. They have also failed to win a Test series away from home since 2008, and have won only four Tests since Muttiah Muralitharan retired in 2010.
"My main ambition now is to see the Sri Lankan cricket team in the top three in the next few years," Mathews said. "We've dropped down to sixth place in Tests and fifth in ODIs. It won't be easy, and it will take some time. Myself, Chandimal and the selectors will have to work closely to achieve that."
Mathews had been Sri Lanka's Twenty20 captain since the end of the World Twenty20 in 2012, but the new selection panel, headed by Sanath Jayasuriya, opted to give that position to Chandimal instead. Chandimal has not showed great promise in the Twenty20 format, but Jayasuriya said the selectors split the captaincy in order to help build a young leadership core, as well as to ease Mathews' burden.
"We thought that it would be too much for Angelo to give him the Twenty20 captaincy as well, as we wanted to allow him to concentrate on the Tests and ODIs," Jayasuriya said. "We thought the best person for the Twenty20 captaincy was Dinesh Chandimal, who has a long future in the game. He will also get some experience of captaining Sri Lanka in case Angelo gets injured."
Mathews' first assignment as captain will be the two-Test home series against Bangladesh, for which the selectors named a 20-man preliminary squad. The selectors sought to create a break from the past by selecting a young squad for their new captain, but Mathews was grateful for the presence of some senior players, most notably Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan, who have all captained Sri Lanka in the past.
"I think you need both experience and youth in a team, because you can't have XI new players in a match. I think the selectors had that balance in mind when they chose the team, and they've done a good job of that."
Of the older players the selectors omitted, Thilan Samaraweera and Prasanna Jayawardene were the most notable exclusions. Jayasuriya was non-committal on whether there was an avenue back into the side for these players, but focused instead on the opportunity to develop fresh talent. He also said the 20-man squad would be whittled down to 15 in the lead up to the first Test.
"We need to start giving the youngsters an opportunity, and a series against Bangladesh is a good one to give one or two new players a place," he said. "Players like Kithuruwan Vithanage and Ashen Silva have been making runs in domestic cricket, and Jeevan Mendis has also scored well recently.
"We want to make sure these young cricketers to experience the atmosphere in the Sri Lankan team, and this is a good opportunity to allow that, because it's a home Test series. They can work with the Sri Lankan team until about 10 days prior to the Test, when we will name the 15-man squad.
Chandimal, 23, was impressive in Tests and ODIs, but failed to make himself a regular in either side throughout much of 2012. He acknowledged the added responsibility more leadership would bring, but suggested that his new roles would be a boon to his development, rather than a hindrance.
"There's pressure every time you play a match, but I think the captaincy is a boost for me personally, and a validation of my past performances," Chandimal said. "I've been a captain in Under-19 at school level as well. I didn't think I would be captain this early in my career, but that's a source of pride for me."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here