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Time for the crew to stand up for the Skipper

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Sri_Lanka_cricket_BattingAngelo Mathews has had to do a lot of things on and off the cricket field, more than what is expected of any other cricket captain. He has had to be virtually omnipresent, to score runs, to pick up wickets, to hold on to catches in the slips, to lead the side and then finally to answer all the queries in the press conferences.

Over the course of all this, Mathews has had to carry his niggles and torn calf muscles in addition to the burden of being the skipper. His visage showed little pain as he walked into the field on certain days, but on other days he just limped. Mathews has had a very tough year at the helm.

He has been the face of Sri Lankan cricket ever since the retirement of Mahela and Sanga, and he still continues to be. But for how long can he alone be its face? It seems like he has taken too many things upon himself, so much so that his own form with both bat and ball has seen a free fall.

His batting average in 2016 has fallen to 25.18 from last year’s 42.25, and the less spoken of his bowling the better. He has hardly bowled at full fitness, picking up just a solitary wicket in the 49 overs that he has managed.

 

The onus is now on the other crew members to stand up for their skipper. Barring Rangana Herath, the bowling unit is still young and needs the skipper’s guidance and backing. But the batting should by now be able to stand for itself and reduce Angelo's headache.

The openers, Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva, have had a roller coaster ride for more than a year now. They must feel lucky indeed to be backed so strongly by the management. This tour will be a stern test for both under trying conditions and there is no time better than now to deliver.

Of recent, the Lankan middle order has been shuffled as many times as Mathews has been on and off the field with his injuries. A handful of batsmen have batted in different positions, but none have made it their own. Perhaps this is the time for Lanka to take a step back and decide once and for all, for there are some exciting batsmen with plenty of promise.

Chandimal, at 27 years, needs to have a place for himself. After his triple failures in England at 4, he was pushed a slot down and has been doing pretty well. But if Perera, who has been batting at 3, is demoted lower down the order, then Chandimal might be moved up to 4 again, which may not be a bad place to bat after all.

 

For a batsman, at times it is important to be selfish and score big runs without worrying about the happenings around. Batsmen who score big would have set goals for themselves to strive for. The most selfish batsman will indeed get more runs, and the more runs scored by the top order, the better the foundation. Chandimal needs to get selfish now.

The last time Lanka toured South Africa, Dinesh Chandimal made his debut at Durban. Coming in at No 7, playing as the batsman-keeper, Chandimal scored 58 and 54 and helped Lanka set up a historical victory. If Chandimal can cement a slot for himself with consistent scores by the end of the series then Mathews can heave a sigh of relief.

Kusal Mendis is an exciting entry not only for Sri Lankan cricket but for world cricket. The counter attacking batsman is bliss to watch, at times reminding me of how Ricky Ponting used to counter attack at 3. This man can drive and pull with panache and leave you in awe. Wherever he bats, if he applies himself, he is sure to leave an impact on the game.

So is the case with another youngster coming off the ranks. Lower down the order, Dhananjaya de Silva batted with little fear in his debut series against Australia, bending the willow to his will and using his wrists freely with little constraint. He is slated to come in after Mathews and will be an X-factor against the Proteas.

The Lankan middle order with Mendis, Chandimal, Mathews and de Silva shows a lot of promise, but how far it will go in following through on that promise is yet to be seen.

This Lankan team is still young but it has had enough experience to start delivering. Is this the series, finally, where we stop mentioning the vacuum left by Mahela and Sangakkara? Only time will tell.

 

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