Mathews: Can’t let the team and country down

Sri Lanka's Test and One-Day International captain, Mathews, did not hesitate to take up the captaincy of the Twenty20 squad after Lasith Malinga stepped down from the post.

Angelo Mathews: "I was told to lead the team in the World Cup. How can I say no?"   -  Prashant Nakwe

Angelo Mathews was as honest as a mirror when asked if he was prepared to take over the reins of Sri Lanka’s Twenty20 squad from Lasith Malinga. “No, I was not (ready for it),” he said with a straight face on Wednesday afternoon.

Appearing slightly disinterested in the proceedings — media interactions can get mundane and morose, so there’s no need to judge the 28-year-old — he then revealed why the new selection committee, headed by Aravinda de Silva and also comprising Kumar Sangakkara, turned to him, and how he just couldn’t look the other way.

“It is unfortunate that Malinga isn’t fit. So, they had to take a call. But he is a vital member of our team, so we’ve kept him in the squad. We hope he’s ready for the first game (against a qualifier in Kolkata on March 17). He is an important player for us. After he resigned from captaincy, they asked me to take over…” the broad-shouldered, soft-spoken allrounder said.

A little later, the team man in Mathews surfaced. “I was told to lead the team in the World Cup. How can I say no? I can’t let the team and country down. I will take this as a positive as I know they have trust in me. I will try my best to do whatever is possible to get to the top with the team I have,” he said.

Defending champion, this time underdog

Lest we forget, Sri Lanka is the defending champion. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since that fateful night in Mirpur two summers ago. Sangakkara is on the ‘other’ side of the table; Mahela Jayawardene is with another team altogether (England); and Sri Lanka looks hardly capable of upsetting the apple cart this time around. On the other hand, India, which narrowly lost that summit clash, is pretty much the favourite this time.

Acknowledging that his team was beaten soundly in the three-match series in India as well as the Asia Cup in Mirpur, Mathews offered a realistic explanation. “They have given me the team that I wanted,” Mathews said, referring to inclusion to Lahiru Thirimanne and Suranga Lakmal at the expense of Jeffrey Vandersay and Niroshan Dickwella. “Now, it’s a matter of going there, expressing ourselves and playing with a lot of freedom and positivity. That’s what I expect from the boys. I don’t want them to think we are going to win the World Cup. I want them to take it one game at a time and play with a lot of freedom. If we do that, I am sure we are going to beat most of the teams,” he said.

Clubbed with South Africa, England, West Indies and a qualifier in Group 1, Mathews said that the ‘underdog’ tag suits the Islanders just fine. “Not going in as the favourite is doing a favour to us. We have admitted we have not played good cricket in the Asia Cup, but the morale in the team is quite good. It’s a new series and we are hoping that we will click. We are starting our campaign from tomorrow (with a practice game against New Zealand at the Wankhede) and hopefully we can go till the end,” he said.