Opinion: Time for Mathews to prove himself

Blog Opinion

While Angelo Mathews has yet to reach great heights as a player, there is still plenty of time for improvement and the opportunity to improve mediocre career statistics.

The role of a cricket captain is unlike that title in most other sports; they dictate on-field tactics, decide how to rotate the bowlers, where to place the field and have a major say in team selection.

The pressures and intensity of captaining an international side so often leads to a decline in their individual performances, while a term of office is frequently a short one for most.

Angelo Mathews was just 25 years old when he assumed the role of Sri Lanka captain, in February of this year. That made him the youngest player to skipper the country in their rich 30-year Test cricket history.

It not only underlines the enormity of the task facing the all-rounder but also highlights the transition Sri Lankan cricket is currently going through as they frantically prepare for life after ever-present veterans Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Dilshan, among others.

Many question marks hang over decision to make Mathews Test and One-Day International captain, not only because of his age but whether his performances justified his appointment as captain, let alone his automatic selection in the five-day side.

His tenure as skipper got off to a positive start; the Sri Lankans once again surpassed expectations on the big stage by reaching the semi-finals of the ICC Champions Trophy in June before finishing runners-up in the Caribbean Tri-Series and defeating South Africa comprehensively in a five-game ODI series.

While he is yet to reach great heights as a player, there is still plenty of time for improvement and the opportunity to improve mediocre career statistics. However, many feel that the appointment may prevent him from fulfilling his true cricketing potential given the onerous duties of captaincy.

Unfortunately, that apprehension has been justified. As Sri Lanka's series with Pakistan in Dubai approaches, Mathews has done little to merit his inclusion in the Test side with his inability to convert promising starts with the bat, while his medium paced bowling only offers the opposition some respite from Sri Lanka's potent attack.

In truth, he's been thrown in at the deep end with captaincy being a task ideally fulfilled by a senior member of the squad with a more established record.

Nonetheless, he must put everything else aside, however difficult that may be, in order to find the form and consistency of performances which saw him break onto the international stage at the age of 21.

While his individual performances have continued to deteriorate in the past 18 months, credit must go to the all-rounder for his leadership during his tenure to date. He's relished the added responsibility and the increased spotlight has seen him mature as a leader. But, the team's successes can, and will do little to overshadow his personal failures.

For much of his industrious career, Mathews has been promoted on the basis of what his talents may bring and the initial promise he showed, rather than what he has actually done on a regular basis.

He has played just 33 Test matches and while his average is a healthy 40.04, Mathews has just one century to his name while his limited-overs batting statistics, a format which he's supposedly suited to, are nothing more than mediocre.

His sole international ton came against Australia on a flat, batting friendly pitch in Colombo, when he crawled through the 90s, ultimately costing his side any hopes of victory. While this can hardly be held against him, perhaps it was an indication of things to come.

There is no doubting his ability and talent. In fact, he's arguably one of Sri Lanka's most resourceful operators with the capability to be a potential match-winner by combining his raw talent and enterprising style.

Many compare Mathews with Australia's Shane Watson when it comes to unfilled promise and frustrating inconsistency. As with Watson, the bowling of Mathews is clearly secondary to his batting, with Sri Lanka's potent attack dwarfing his limitations as a genuine Test bowler.

His medium pace can often exploit bowler-friendly conditions but his lack of pace and penetration lessens his wicket-taking prowess, particularly with the red ball – he has just 11 Test wickets to his name at a cost of 73 apiece.

Sri Lanka's board and selectors had obviously pinpointed the Colombo-born all-rounder as captaincy material from the outset and while he has settled into the role admirably, one feels Mathews requires a productive tour personally if he is to establish himself as one of Sri Lanka's finest leaders.

<b>Ryan Bailey (@RyanBailey37)</b>