From the beginning of his international career, Angelo Mathews was touted for greatness, not only as a player but also as a leader. That’s why most people were least worried about Sri Lanka’s future when legends such as Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene retired. Everyone expected Mathews to lead Sri Lanka to greater heights.
However, what Mathews achieved was mediocrity, both as a player and captain. An unsatisfactory first stint at the helm between 2013 and 2017 saw him give up his duties in early 2017. And Sri Lanka went on a downward spiral ever since.
But, he is back to lead Sri Lanka in the limited-overs formats under the guidance of coach Chandika Hathurusingha, and Sri Lanka would look to regroup under the new command.
"When I stepped down I never thought of taking over the captaincy again," Mathews said. "But as soon as we came back from India, the president had a discussion with me. Also Hathu aiya (Hathurusingha), and the selectors spoke to me and asked me to consider taking up the captaincy again. I took a few days to think about it, and because of a few reasons I decided to accept,” he said.
It has been less than six months since he stepped down as Sri Lanka’s captain across all formats in the aftermath of their series defeat to Zimbabwe in July last year. However, they still lost 23 out of the 29 One-Day Internationals (ODIs), and the fact that Sri Lanka had five different captains in 2017 itself didn't help matters.
However, with Hathurusingha’s appointment, all experiments with captaincy seem to have ended as he has convinced their most experienced player to lead the team once again, keeping the 2019 World Cup in focus.
Hathurusingha and Mathews go back to 2008, when the former was the coach of the Sri Lanka 'A' team. He rated Mathews very highly, and there are no surprises in his decision to reinstate the all-rounder as the captain of the national team.
"I've also known Hathu aiya for a long time and I know how he operates. He's not here just to survive. It'll be very easy to work with him. When you have a coach like him that other countries are desperate to have, it's a great thing. Cricket has given me a lot. If I turn my back in the hour of need I'll not have done right by cricket,” Mathews added.
Mathews doesn’t have an overtly poor ODI record as captain; he has led Sri Lanka to 47 wins from 98 matches with a win percentage of 51.07. His record takes a beating in other formats though. He has just 12 wins out of 34 Tests, and four victories out of 12 T20Is as captain.
However, it were the consecutive losses towards the end of his first stint as captain — that too against teams like Zimbabwe — that put his leadership under scrutiny. Despite having a young and inexperienced team at his disposal, Mathews received heavy criticism that started affecting his individual performance as well.
Still, he has an impressive all-round record as an ODI captain. He averages 45.36 with the bat and 32.29 with the ball in matches as captain, far better when compared to averages of 37.78 and 36.14 respectively in matches where he has not led. In fact, his averages as a captain is also better than his overall career batting and bowling averages of 41.85 and 34.21 respectively.
Even former World Cup-winning Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga spoke of Mathews highly when he had decided to give up captaincy.
“Mathews is the best captain I have seen after Ranjan Madugalle. When he said that he wanted to quit, SLC should have told him to hang in there without throwing the towel in. If I had any say, I would have told him that this is not the time to quit," Ranatunga told Cricbuzz in August this year.
Although late, it seems that Ranatunga’s thoughts and prayers have come true as the board has once again convinced him to take up the mantle of leading the side in limited-overs cricket.
However, the biggest challenge that the 30-year-old will face alongside bringing stability to Sri Lankan cricket, will be to manage his body. The Lankan all-rounder has missed 20 out of Sri Lanka 's 39 ODIs in the last one and a half year through a series of ankle, hamstring and quadriceps injuries.
Hathurusingha has assured that he is aware of Mathews' recent injuries and has got a plan that will help him and Sri Lanka. "The only concern we had was his physical fitness and we have a plan in place to help him."
To reap the best results out of him, Sri Lanka need to monitor and manage Mathews’ workload very carefully. He is not someone who can bowl his full quota of 10 overs in every match anymore nor can he bowl at an express pace. He is still a tricky bowler and can chip in with useful performances in the four or five overs he bowls every match.
It remains to be seen what kind of role he plays for Sri Lanka. His first assignment would be the tri-series in Bangladesh that also features Zimbabwe — a side that he last played against as captain. The mutual trust that Hathurusingha and Mathews share should translate into performances on the field. Hopefully, Sri Lanka will redeem themselves under new stint of their old captain.