I will do what my gut says in the middle
By Anjana Kaluarachchi
in Cape Town
CT Sports: Angelo Mathews is into his fifth year as skipper of the Sri Lanka team. After some humiliating defeats in South Africa he is at the receiving end of probably the biggest criticism of his tenure as skipper, even though SL returned to winning ways courtesy of Mathews heroics.
Following the 3-0 Test defeat Mathews was targeted by many - including fans, media and even SLC - where chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya warned they will have to re-think about the captaincy if the team didn't do well in the limited over matches.
Mathews who is due to head back to the country after injuring himself, described this tour as his worst as a captain, as nothing went his way during the tour. Finally he had to bat through agonizing pain following a hamstring injury to seal the visitor's only win, which effectively became his last match of the tour.
Mathews was named captain in February 2013. He was fortunate to have the likes of Thilakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardena, Kumar Sangakkara and Thilan Samaraweera in the team, and led the team to a historical series win in England contributing immensely with the bat, and recently secured Sri Lanka's first whitewash against Australia at home. With the retirement of those legends Mathews was left with a fairly young and inexperienced team, which was badly exposed during the South African series.
Ceylon Today sat down with Mathews before he left to Sri Lanka, where he replied to criticism about his captaincy and tactics, and discussed about his playing future and plan to counter SL's inability to cope with seaming conditions.
Following are the excerpts of the interview.
?: You have been at the receiving end of heavy criticism following the recent Test defeat. How do you take them personally?
A. This is my fifth year as captain. What you have got to understand as a captain and also as a player is when you do well there will be a lot of people praising you, but when you start losing, the blame will go to the captain which is understandable.
We understand that people back at home are quite disappointing. They love the game. They follow us wherever we go. So we understand their anger as well. But we are not here to lose. We try our best to win.
?: Do you think your leadership has anything to do with the recent defeats?
A. Personally I don't know. When you win there are so many people who want to take the credit. But when we lose that always has to be the captain, selectors and all connected people (to take the blame). Yes we accept it. I as captain accept it. I will have to answer and I will be responsible (about team performance). I worked really closely with Fordy (Coach Graham Ford). We always discussed with selectors when it comes to the team. It has been a collective effort but if one wants to put the full blame on me, so be it.
?: Unlike early days in your captaincy this team does not have any star players in it. Does it have an impact on current performance?
A. It can be to a certain extent. Yes, when I started off, especially in England when we achieved the historical win, we had Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara. Even in the last Australian series I had Rangana Herath. Now I'm carrying on with a lot of young players. Guys like Kusal Mendis and Dhananjaya de Silva haven't played a lot of Test matches or Tests outside the country. So we have to give them opportunities. Let everyone blame me, its fine. I can take it. But let's not blame other players. We need to support and encourage them, not put them down.
?: Do you think you got the captaincy a bit too early in your career?
A. I was probably 25 then - apparently the youngest captain. But I was lucky enough to have guys like Mahela (Jayawardena), Sanga (Kumar Sangakkara), Dilshan (Thilakaratne) and Thilan Samaraweera to help me and support me. Now I have Rangana Herath and Dinesh Chandimal the vice captain. I wouldn't say it was too early. If you look back, Graham Smith (former South African Captain) took it when he was just 22. It's just a matter of whether you can do it or not. Yes it is not an easy job to do.
Even the greatest hasn't done it for a long time. We feel the heat when captaining. It is the game and you need to be responsible; you need to be strong enough to get the blame and take all the pressure thrown at you to be a leader.
?:Why are we struggling to produce champion players who excel outside home conditions?
A. Domestic structure. The Cricket Board together with the Cricket Committee is now putting in a lot of hard work to amend the structure. We need to give them time as they just took over. Yes, probably in another couple of years, we can see lots of improvements. These are hard times. Even the legends too found it difficult when they played overseas.
?: We did identify players like Lahiru Thirimanne and Dinesh Chanidmal as suitable replacements for Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena when they retired, but Thirimanne is not even in the team now? What really happened?
A. I don't want to compare Sangakkara and Jayawardena with anyone. Chandimal really did perform well against Australia.
Thirimanne was a bit disappointing. He didn't perform well to retain his place, which can happen to any player .The challenge now is how to come out of it and how soon you can get into the team.
?:Do you think the growing popularity of T20 leagues affects Tests and ODI cricket that much?
A. Yes definitely, but in a good way. Cricketers have taken Test cricket to another level. We see lots of teams getting three hundred on the first day, and quite a fast game now. T20 all in all takes pressure off the player. Yes, it is a pressure game and you need to be able to make decisions in quick time. It has evolved players across the borders. Now in one day cricket, even 380 is not enough in certain conditions. So yes, it has taken the game to a different level.
?:How do you describe being a captain under pressure?
A. Captain is always under pressure wherever he plays. You're under pressure to play as an individual plus as a team. It should not affect your game. When we lose a game everyone is saying we should have done this and that. But when you are really in the middle you feel the pressure and you feel what needs to be done at the moment. If anything goes wrong there will be so many who will say you should have done that, you should have done this. But when you're in the middle you understand the situation. If you ask any cricketer they would have said that being out there is completely different than watching the game.
?: You were named Sri Lanka Captain till 2019 ICC World Cup. If the team doesn't perform well during that period of time do you think your captaincy is under threat?
A. I'm not thinking too far ahead. I just want to take one game at a time. I'm not here to be the captain forever. I'll never be the captain forever. This is just a passing cloud. This is just a position. I'm not afraid to lose it, I don't need it forever. I'm not afraid to step down or lose it or to keep it. I can play under any captain. It doesn't matter as long as I perform. I have a lot more to give to the team and the country. I'll do my very best regardless of being the captain or not.
?:If selectors ask you to resign based on this tour, which is a tough one, do you think it is justifiable?
A. It's not in my control. We are here to win and never think to lose. If the selectors or SLC thought we need a change and they think that somebody else is ready to do the captaincy it's not at all a problem for me. As long as I enjoy I keep playing. I just want to try and perform well as a team and I will always help whoever is captain in the future as well.
?:One of the biggest criticisms against you is some of the tactics you use during the matches. One such criticism was bowling yourself more often with the new ball than bowlers with more pace such as Lahiru Kumara and Nuwan Pradeep . How do you respond?
A. You can look at it in two ways. When I bowl it is a problem. When I don't bowl it is also a problem. I don't really care about what others say. I'll do what my gut says in the middle. I'm the captain. I need to take decisions. Whatever I feel best I will do to after talking with senior players. I'm not bothered about what other people say. Opening bowling is something I have always done from 2009, especially in these conditions where the pitches have a lot of grass. Even Champaka (Ramanayake – Bowling Coach) and Coach Graham Ford says to bowl early since I swing and seam a lot more. Especially guys like Lahiru Kumara and Nuwan Pradeep are better off with the semi new ball as they have better control.
Also when you lose everyone will start criticizing my captaincy and tactics. This all happens in the game. What happened in the Australian series was my tactics wasn't good; or in England, at that historical moment? Everyone was talking about giving that last over to Shaminda Eranga. So these things happen. Captain is to blame all the time. I totally understand.
?: Are you planning to resign after the series?
A. I haven't thought about it. I will not run away from pressure. Anyone can say anything. If I feel this is the time or if selectors say, I'm open to it. Whatever others say I'm not bothered.
?: When there is so much news going around about the captaincy, especially in social media, how do you personally feel about it?
A. I get information from very few people. I don't even bother to look at social media. I don't get any notification. If they (social media) tell me (to resign) I will not do it anyway. I will do what I feel is right. When you lose everything is thrown at you. This is not just for me or for the last time; it will be there till I retire.
?: Quality of the opposition when it comes to warm-up matches here in South Africa, and even in England, was very low. So is the condition of warm-up pitches. How can these things affect a tour?
A. When you have home advantage everything is planned. We can't do anything about it. All you have to do is get on with it. You can't change wickets or warm up opposition. From the very first day I said we aren't going to complain about it.
?:Lack of pace friendly pitches in Sri Lanka is the biggest obstacle to produce players who can play in these conditions. What are the things that should be done to address these issues, especially with next Champions Trophy and ICC World Cup both to be held in England on pace friendly pitches?
A. One thing we always talked about and SLC mainly implemented is to ensure that cricket is played on good pitches. I'm really thankful for that. Our fast bowlers have to get a lot of bowling on it. They (SLC) have actually monitored lots of pitches this time.
They have made sure they are playing on good pitches. I saw some big scores. I'm happy that we are working in the right direction.
?: Despite captaincy talks you are the official Sri Lanka Cricket Captain appointed till 2019 World Cup. How keen are you to lead SL in that World Cup?
A. You never know what will happen in 2019. It is a long way to go; things might change or might not. I'm not thinking too far ahead, I just want to take it one game at a time.
As far as 2019 I just want to build the team; whoever the captain is doesn't matter as long as the team is ready to play in English conditions. So that's our main concern now, to find the best combination and batting line up to play on English pitches. Whoever can play in 2019, we will keep giving them opportunities so they will be ready by 2019.
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