When a self-effacing Angelo Mathews was named as Sri Lanka’s Test captain early last year, the move seemed borne out of desperation to groom a successor to the two iconic figures of their cricket than anything else. Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara had, by then, taken turns to lead the island nation in all formats of the game a number of times and it was high time for a new incumbent.
A year and a half down the line, the Lankan management must be breathing a huge sigh of relief at their decision. When Mathews, now formally anointed as their one-day captain as well, set up a big total to against Pakistan in the second ODI at Hambantota with a cultured 93 on Tuesday, it was merely an extension of the dream run that he has had over the last few months.
The 27-year-old had, in a show of exemplary character, turned an English summer into a Sri Lankan one in June when he hit back-to-back centuries against Alastair Cook’s men at Lord’s and Headingley to seal the country’s first-ever series win in England. Under Mathews, they also won the one-day series 3-2 — capping what’s easily their most memorable away tour in history.
A bit of figure-crunching shows that across a 17-month stretch as captain now, he has recorded six victories and four draws in 11 Tests. The England tour was followed by a 2-0 win over Pakistan at home, where Mathews and his band of jolly good fellows ensured a winning send-off for Jayawardene from Tests.
It’s a tribute to his temperament that Mathews, whose arrival in international cricket in 2009 did not quite take the game by storm, started revelling in being a batsman in both forms of the game since assuming the captaincy. For someone who was considered more of a useful all-rounder in the shorter formats of the game not so long ago, he has been nothing short of remarkable.
Mind you, Mathews is nowhere near the natural talent that his two legendary predecessors were. Unlike the expansive off-side repertoire of Sanga or the languid grace of Mahela, it’s difficult to remember a signature shot of Mathews — and this is where he compensates with his resilience and temperament. His seam bowling, in addition, has been giving the team more options and will certainly be a big help in the World Cup in Australia-New Zealand next year.
It’s still early to say if Mathews can finally match up to the legendary status of some of the former stars of Lankan cricket, but he already shares one of their attributes in abundance. From Arjuna Rangatunga to Jayawardene — they all believed in playing with a smile but showing the steel in their character when required.
Remember how he stood by teammate Sachithra Senanayake during the Jos Buttler run-out incident in Edgbaston this summer?
It’s a quality, which will only endear Mathews to his men in years to come.