Angelo Mathews has been there all through Sri Lanka's transition period © Getty Images
Angelo Mathews has been there all through Sri Lanka’s transition period © Getty Images

Cricket is a game of glory. You play well, you put in your hundred per cent and at the end of the day your achievements speak for you. For a talented cricketer (or any player for that matter) to grow and flourish, he needs favourable conditions and support from others. Angelo Mathews, current Sri Lanka captain, started his career surrounded by world-class players but once handed the leadership charge, had very few he could count on. It was an entire new start, of choosing able, raw players, grooming them and facing the world, sans Muttiah Muralitharan, sans Chaminda Vaas, sans Sanath Jayasuriya, with Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Rangana Herath all approaching the ends of their illustrious careers. LIVE CRICKET SCORECARD: England vs Sri Lanka, 2nd Test at Chester-le-street

Some careers, for whatever reason, go unnoticed. It could not have been said more bluntly and Mathews is one classic example. Mathews came into the side at a point of time when the Lankans needed a good all-rounder to complement Dilshan. They tried Farveez Maharoof before settling on Mathews. Dilshan was in his prime with bat at that time, and Mathews had to do something different, like bagging 6 wickets against India, which he did in 2009.

Most of Mathews’ own grooming happened under the world greats like Jayasuriya, Jayawardene and Sangakkara. It improved his approach towards the game. Observing such greats from such close corners obviously resulted in his holistic improvement. Cricketing greats who have carried the burden of the nation’s cricketing worries leave behind a gigantic void with their retirements, as has been in the case of these Sri Lankan giants. It is how maturely and effectively one acts in such situations where the team’s capabilities remain.

Angelo Mathews was rightly handed the captaincy, looking at the potential he has. But the team he got was vastly different from the kind of one he used to play in.

With the team consisting of greats, Mathews had a lot of freedom to play his own game. The intent to make a mark with his performance amidst those big names, the drive to become one of them kept him going. With these titans retiring, the entire pressure came down upon Mathews’ shoulders. Mathews had to lead a bunch of players who were entirely raw, not aware of the level of cricket being played outside, inexperienced of the foreign pitches.

Mindset plays a key role behind a player’s success. A man used to see seniors absorb pressure, that too of a tried and tested team, had to lead from the front a team whose strengths and weaknesses he himself was unaware of to some extent, let aside using those factors properly.

Mathews’ last Test experience in England has been a victorious one. The team consisted of names like Sangakkara and Jayawardene, match-winners in themselves. But Mathews outdid them all, with two centuries in two Tests and bagging four wickets. The team prominently had a game plan: Mathews knew whom to use where, having played with them in different conditions. Mathews’ Sri Lanka won the two-Test series 1-0.

With Dhammika Prasad ruled out of the tournament following his injury, it left Mathews with Nuwan Pradeep, Shaminda Eranga, Lahiru Thirimanne, Rangana Herath, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva and the captain himself who played in the 2014 England tour.

Sri Lanka’s bowling, even with many new inclusions to the side, has been impressive. Unfortunately, what hurt Sri Lanka badly was getting bowled out for a mere 91 and 119. The experienced players also looked uncomfortable, and just a handful went past ten. The first innings scoreboard of Sri Lanka looked shameful, with Mathews’ 36 standing alone.

Leading a national cricket team is often equivalent to being in command of everyone’s hopes and emotions. Moulding himself to the completely contrasting conditions, Mathews still takes superb catches at slip, tries his best to rotate the limited bowling options as favourably as possible for his team, tries to hold his ground and bat for long, and even comes on himself to provide the occasional breakthrough, or at least give his main bowlers some rest. Mathews fights alone with the changing situations, like a brave warrior.

(Paulami Chakraborty, a singer, dancer, artist, and photographer, loves the madness of cricket and writes about the game. She can be followed on Twitter at @Polotwitts)