It is hard to imagine the pressure on Angelo Mathews. A proven world-class talent amid a merry-go-round of comers and goers, he has remained – for the most part – a rare constant in a side now shorn of both Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.
Sri Lanka’s youngest ever Test captain at 25, his finest hour came at Headingley back in 2014; his 160 won a historic Test match, giving his country a landmark series win on English soil. Earlier that year, the island nation had already experienced the unrivaled and unbridled joy of World T20 glory – a victory in which Mathews played a key role both with bat and ball.
If his useful medium-pace is relied upon less than in previous years, it may be – at least, in part – due to the fitness issues that have clouded the star’s recent times.
His importance to the makeup of any Sri Lankan side was highlighted when a quad injury before the 2011 World Cup final resulted in three changes to a side imbalanced by the indomitable all-rounder’s absence.
Five years later, a hamstrung Mathews – batting virtually on one leg – came within touching distance of defeating England at the 2016 World T20.
Yet, these injury issues have begun to add up. Mathews was dropped following Sri Lanka’s display in last year’s Asia Cup, with his “cricket fitness” cited as the major reason. When the decision was made, Mathews had been involved in 65 runouts since his international debut in 2008 – 17 more than anyone else.
It is a quite staggering statistic, and the damning criticism made Mathew’s World Cup presence appear unlikely.
The bigger picture, though, is a telling one; since his removal from the side, Sri Lanka have suffered defeats in all three bilateral series they have taken part in. They are a better side with Mathews in it.
And in a batting lineup short on white-ball nous, his return could scarcely be more timely.
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