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Angelo Mathews to Captain Sri Lanka Cricket Team


M Jahabar Sadiq
16 May 2011
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The Sri Lankan cricket captaincy will go through a change in generations this week, but not before a reminder of why earlier captains regarded the job as a penance as much as an honor.

Angelo Mathews, 25, will lead Sri Lanka in a five-day test match for the first time Friday when it plays Bangladesh at Galle in the first of a series of two matches. He succeeds Mahela Jayawardene, 35, who stepped down after a second stint as captain.

Until earlier this week, it was unclear whether Mathews would play in the match, much less lead the team. He and Sri Lanka’s 23 leading players were feuding with the Sri Lanka Cricket Board over pay, but they reached a settlement Monday. Before that, the board was preparing to field a team of replacement players against Bangladesh.

Disputes over pay and late payments and complaints of political interference have dogged Sri Lankan cricket for years. It is telling that while Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan, the three players who have led Sri Lanka since 2005, all remain members of the national test squad, none wants to lead the team. Jayawardene will miss the Bangladesh series after surgery on an injured finger, while Sangakkara’s participation is in doubt because of a fractured finger.

Mathews has been eyed as a potential captain for some time. He was seriously considered for the captaincy in 2011, but the selectors decided it was too early and opted for Dilshan. His appointment to lead Sri Lanka in Twenty20 cricket last year showed that he remained the heir apparent.

His elevation to lead the test and one-day international team means that the Twenty20 leadership passes to Dinesh Chandimal, 23, now also the vice captain in the longer forms.

Mathews, who leaves Sri Lanka atop the world rankings in Twenty20, has made climbing up in the other rankings, both in tests and one-day internationals, a priority.

“My main ambition now is to see the Sri Lankan cricket team in the top three in the next few years,” he said when appointed last month. “We’ve dropped down to sixth place in tests and fifth in O.D.I.’s.”

Mathews brings a range of skills as a player. He is a highly competent middle-order batsman who averages close to 40 runs per dismissal in tests, although injuries have limited both the extent and effectiveness of his fast-medium bowling. Certainly he will want to improve a current test average of more than 70 runs per wicket.

But he has attracted most attention as a brilliantly athletic fielder, earning himself a heap of highlight reel appearances, with plays such as an extraordinary stop during the Twenty20 World Cup in 2009, when he leaped over the boundary rope to parry back into play a shot that looked certain to go for six.

And while Sri Lanka has struggled to bowl other teams out since the retirement in 2010 of Muttiah Muralitharan, the all-time record wicket-taker in test cricket, the veteran left-arm spinner Rangana Herath is beginning to look like a match-winner. He took 60 test wickets in 2012, more than any other bowler in the world, including 28 in Sri Lanka’s three matches at Galle.

The Bangladeshi captain, Mushfiqur Rahim, has described the series as his country’s best-ever opportunity to do well in Sri Lanka. “The tour is a big opportunity if we can play to our potential,” Rahim said.

It would be hard for Bangladesh to do worse than on its previous visits to Sri Lanka, where it has been beaten heavily in all eight test matches it has played. It will, though, be seriously handicapped by the absence of its best player, Shakib al-Hasan. The 25-year-old, out with a shin injury, is Bangladesh’s leading player in both the batting and bowling rankings and is rated the world’s No. 1 all-rounder, ahead of Jacques Kallis of South Africa.

Bangladesh hopes that part of the slack will be taken up by its prodigal talent, Mohammad Ashraful. A decade ago, at age 17, he became the youngest ever to hit a century in test cricket, against Sri Lanka in Colombo. But since then, he has mixed occasional moments of brilliance with long spells of low scoring. His recall for the Sri Lanka tour after more than a year out of the team came only because Shahriar Nafees was ruled out with a hand injury.

“I think I am at an age when I want to have a second coming, and from the top order, I think I can target that,” Ashraful, now 28, said after scoring 102 in Bangladesh’s warm-up match against Sri Lanka’s development team.
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