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Unlucky Angelo Mathews

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Angelo_Mathews_Sri_Lanka_CricketImagine you were just overcoming a nightmare. Having woken up, the nightmare would be left behind. However, there are those severely unlucky people who relive the bad dream. Sri Lankan (sometimes) limited-overs Captain Angelo Mathews is one of them.

Winding the clock back six months, an almost teary-eyed Mathews, almost speechless with emotion, spoke in the post-match presentation. He walked on as they called for the losing captain of the match and series. Sri Lanka had just lost the fifth ODI and the five-ODI series 2-3 to a lower-ranked Zimbabwe.

He somehow managed to speak in the presentation, which only showed he was clearly living the lowest point in his career. "We were outplayed in all three departments. Credit to Zimbabwe, they gave us a tough time. It was a difficult track to bat on, but 203 was way below standards. Our bowlers bowled very well, Malinga was good, Dananjaya came good. The openers have taken responsibility, but the rest didn't support them enough," a misty-eyed Mathews said.

What followed next was a shock more than something that had been seeing coming. A Sri Lankan official announced that Mathews had stepped down from Sri Lanka's captaincy across all formats, terming the series loss to Zimbabwe as a "bitter pill to swallow."

 

Early in his career, at the age of 25, Mathews was handed the responsibility of the Sri Lankan team in 2013. Prior to his stepping down as skipper, he led his country in 34 Tests, 98 ODIs and 12 T20Is. He had a modest record as Sri Lanka’s limited-overs captain, especially compared to his Test record, where he had one shining achievement to name. Under his leadership, Sri Lanka defeated England (in England) 1-0 in a two-Test series in 2014. Mathews played a vital role in the victory, scoring a century in each of the two Tests.

 

He has had a fair number of lows as well, from Sri Lanka's campaign in the 2015 World Cup, 2016 World T20 and the 2017 Champions Trophy. Even in the Test format, they suffered two white-washes: one against New Zealand (0-2) and another against South Africa (0-3). As Sri Lanka's Test captain, Mathews had 13 Test victories against 15 losses.

He recently admitted that he had wanted to step down from captaincy back in 2016, but there was no one to take over. However, a year later, he figured out that the likes of Upul Tharanga and Dinesh Chandimal were ready to take over the limited overs and Test roles from him. There was no point hanging around when his mind was already made up.

Since Mathews' retirement, under Tharanga's captaincy in limited overs, Sri Lanka were whitewashed at home by India (0-5), by Pakistan (0-5) in the UAE and once again to India, this time in an away series (1-2). Considering these atrocious results and the looming ICC Cricket World Cup in 2019, the Sri Lanka board requested Mathews to reconsider captaincy in limited-overs cricket.

Not even a year had passed since the (un)forgettable loss to Zimbabwe. Mathews resumed Sri Lanka's captaincy. Apart from reinstating Mathews as Sri Lanka's captain, the board appointed a new coach as well: Chandika Hathurusingha. Mathews had an old connection with him that went back to their days in Sri Lanka A. Mathews was elevated into international cricket in 2009 after some impressive performances with Sri Lanka A, at the time coached by Hathurusingha.

 

When Mathews was requested to return, he accepted, despite his own reluctance. "When I stepped down, I thought that I will never take it up again. SLC President, Head Coach and the selectors wanted me to reconsider my decision. We need to have stability leading up to the 2019 World Cup which is less than 18 months away. This is an hour of need and if I don't take it up now, I will feel bad in a few months’ time," Mathews said before he led Sri Lanka in their first assignment post his second innings as the skipper.

 

Coincidentally, Mathews' first match in his return as Sri Lanka's captain happened to be against Zimbabwe. They locked horns in the Tri-Series hosted by Bangladesh. It went without saying that Mathews would have thought of the humiliating home loss against these lower-ranked opponents before he took field in Dhaka's Shere Bangla National Stadium.

Batting first, Zimbabwe posted a respectable total of 290, courtesy of 73 from Hamilton Masakadza and an unbeaten 81 from all-rounder Sikandar Raza. In reply, Kusal Perera helped Sri Lanka get off to a decent start. As long as he was on the crease, a win was on the cards. However. At the other end. The rest of the batsmen kept throwing away their wickets, bringing back haunting memories from Mathews’ last game as skipper against the same side.

By the end of the match, Mathews had experienced an unpleasant feeling of reliving the old nightmare. An all-round show from the No. 10 side saw Sri Lanka defeated by 12 runs. Zimbabwe had now registered a third consecutive ODI win against these opponents. Mathews had once said that he couldn’t pinpoint any one reason as to why this kept happening, but he also defended his side, saying that they were not short of skill but lacked momentum. In 2018, once again, he had no definite reason why Sri Lanka, time and again, kept disappointing their fans.

Mathews' right hamstring injury ruled him out of the Tri-Series before Sri Lanka’s next game against Bangladesh. While that was a blow for an already under-fire Sri Lanka, that might have been a blessing in disguise for Mathews. Another loss under his leadership would have had a negative impact on him, already leading the side against his own wishes. He was not forced to take up the captain's role, but given a chance and a suitable successor, he certainly would give it up.

Without Mathews, Sri Lanka ended up losing to Bangladesh. But they won the following three matches, most recently the Tri-series final. The victory will help this sorry Sri Lankan side revive their spirits, regroup and present a side with a fresh and positive mindset to Mathews to captain. Sri Lanka has a Test series against Bangladesh and that will be followed by another tri-series, which will involve India and Bangladesh.

 

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