Sri Lanka Cricket and Angelo Mathews have parted ways with the captain agreeing to step down after being told that his services are no longer required in the wake of the team’s disastrous performance in the Asia Cup where they were smashed by Afghanistan and Bangladesh. As Mathews met the selectors and Head Coach Chandika Hathurusingha he was given two choices – step down or face the sack. But the question that needs to be asked is whether Mathews should be the only one who has to go? What about the fielding coach? What about the batting coach? What about the selectors?
In January this year, Mathews had reluctantly accepted the captaincy again. He had ended his five year tenure as captain in July last year after a shocking series defeat at the hands of Zimbabwe. Since then over the next six months, Sri Lanka tried four different captains with little success.
In January when Hathurusingha took over as head coach, the Hobson’s choice as captain in the shorter format was Mathews. Given the fickle nature of Sri Lankan cricket where there has not been much tolerance shown in recent times, his friends had warned him. But he took it up as a challenge and yet nine months into the job he has stepped down.
Mathews minced no words. In a letter to Sri Lanka Cricket CEO Ashley De Silva he said that he felt betrayed.
“The selection committee and the head coach Chandika Hathurusingha informed me to step down as ODI and T-20 captain. I was initially surprised, but it was immediately felt that I have been made the scapegoat in the entire saga of Sri Lanka’s dismal performances against Bangladesh and Afghanistan in the Asia Cup,” Mathews wrote to the CEO.
“I am willing to take part of the blame, but at the same time, feel betrayed and let down if the blame is solely put on me. As you know, all the decisions are taken through a mutual understanding with the selectors and head coach,” he explained.
After such a disappointing campaign and with Sri Lanka left with another 15 games or so before the World Cup, Mathews was ready to take up the blame, fight it out without throwing in the towel. However, before that he has been forced out of the captaincy.
He has expressed his willingness to retire, but that would be insane. These days Mathews only plays as a specialist batsman and does a good job. He was the highest run-getter from either side in the bilateral series against South Africa that concluded last month.
There is a move to get him to play only Test cricket, but that would be ridiculous. A side that has struggled in shorter formats of the game can not afford to lose Mathews. There’s lot of anger at the moment following the Asia Cup debacle, but once everything settles down Mathews should be back in the business.
Dinesh Chandimal under whom the Test side has made rapid progress has been made the captain for the England series and is likely to be handed the job until the 2019 World Cup.
Unlike Mathews, who hails from Colombo and attended the posh St. Joseph’s College, Chandimal comes from down south and is known for his no-nonsense style that is quite a contrast to Mathews’ softer nature. Given the Sri Lankans’ casual approach these days, such a leader is welcome and could make a difference.
Chandimal was appointed Test captain in July 2017 and since he took over the Test team Sri Lanka have done well with series wins over Pakistan, West Indies, Bangladesh and South Africa. The one against Pakistan in particular was impressive as Sri Lanka were able to end Pakistan’s unbeaten run in UAE that had that began in 2010.
The Test team also plays with purpose and exhibits fighting spirit, something that has been badly lacking in the ODI outfit.
Chandimal had a phenomenal 2017 in Test cricket and was one of the six players to score more than 1000 runs. He was in and out of the ODI side as his strike rate came under the spotlight. But he has bounced back with intent and has improved his strike rate in shorter formats of the game this year.
However, Chandimal has got into constant trouble with ICC for various offences. He was Sri Lanka’s captain for the World T20 in Bangladesh in 2014 and missed a few games including the final due to a slow over rate offence.
Early this year too he was suspended for the same offence and later in West Indies was found guilty of ball tampering and was further penalised for bringing the game into disrepute for holding up play demanding match officials to come up with evidence. As a result, he missed three Tests and four ODIs.
Interesting times are ahead for Sri Lankan cricket. It remains to be seen whether Chandimal will be able to fix the team’s ODI woes like what he did with the Test team. He has received lot of praise from World Cup winning Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga for the way he has led the side. Chandimal has a huge role to play in taking Sri Lankan cricket out of their current predicament.