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Mathews the glue in Sri Lanka's rebuilding process

Amid Danushka Gunathilaka's blazing recall, Kusal Mendis' elegance, Kusal Perera's hamstring injury and Asela Gunaratne's match-clinching cameo, his went a little unnoticed. Angelo Mathews was steadfast in Sri Lanka's superbly-paced chase against India, a reassuring presence for an innings that could still have gone wrong despite the excellence around him.

Without their captain, Sri Lanka are a shadow of a team. Most sides have a player whose absence alters their dynamic significantly, but few to the extent of Mathews with this rebuilding Sri Lanka side. It often feels as though his hamstrings, and various other parts of his body, are held together by medical tape, painkillers and sheer bloody-mindedness. All available means need to be taken to keep him on the field; if the bowling has to go by the wayside as a consequence, that would be a small price to pay.

The match against India was his first ODI for 10 months, leg injuries of various descriptions keeping him sidelined since the series against Australia. Prior to that he had tried to keep a brittle side afloat against the emerging power of England, and earlier in 2016 he had almost hauled Sri Lanka over the line on one leg in the World T20 group match against the same opposition.

In Sri Lanka's opening game of the Champions Trophy against South Africa, they made a thundering start to the run chase through Niroshan Dickwella and Upul Tharanga, but there was a callowness - and often headlessness - about what followed. Against India there was a chance that the chase could have been knocked off course after the back-to-back run outs of Gunathilaka and Mendis. But Mathews strode in, calmed any tensions and, by and large, allowed his partners to do the fun stuff - an audacious flick over fine leg against Umesh Yadav being an exception.

The last three years have taken Mathews' one-day batting to new heights. Since the start of 2014, his average from 61 matches is 50.08; in the 91 games before that it had been 34.17. He became captain in early 2013 and though there was never a period that could be classed as a slump, it took a little time to marry the two roles together.

"Even though I'm the captain of the team, I've always tried to contribute as a batter, a bowler and on the field because I'm another player when I get onto the field," Mathews said. "So my contribution is also very important to the team. I try my very best to try and concentrate on what I have to do rather than thinking about the captaincy and too many other things happening. So I've always focused on what I have to do and the job at hand.

"I've worked extremely hard, just like the others. It's just, I think through my experience I'm learning the game a bit more now. I'm slowly understanding the game a little bit better than what I used to. I'm learning every day."

He is also having to nurse the side through a period of era-defining change. One-by-one the trio of batting heavyweights - Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan - have moved aside. Of the players that made Sri Lanka one of the powerhouse one-day sides, only Lasith Malinga from the original troop remains and he is a slower, lumbering, creaking version who may not have many more miles in the legs.

It is a long-term process to fill those positions. In Kusal Mendis they have one who, with a fair wind, can have a superb career and Gunathilaka appears to have something worth persevering with (you wonder if there was no space in the original squad for him) but consistency could still be some way away.

"As I always say, it's very easy to captain a side when you have the Sangakkaras, Mahelas, Malingas, all these guys, and the challenge began really after they retired. Lasith is obviously still with us, but Sangakkara and Mahela, when they retired, it created a lot of vacuum in the team, and we had to sort of pursue with the younger players and give them confidence," Mathews said.

"It's not easy - when you lose a few games here and there, it's never easy. The pressure is on. It's just that you've got to try and deal with the pressures or try and stick with them, give them a lot of confidence. Yes, we know the talent that we have in the dressing room. It's just that we need to try and stay positive with them and give them a lot of opportunities and give them a longer run being consistent with them. We obviously will see more results in the future."

The run chase against India offered some encouragement for the rebuilding process this Sri Lanka side are going through. But there remains one man who holds it all together, and will need to do so for some time to come.