Big moment for Captain Angelo

National cricket team leaves for UK tomorrow


by Rex Clementine

Angelo Mathews receives a heroes’ welcome after Sri Lanka’s Asia Cup triumph in Bangladesh. (FILES)

The national cricket team will leave for the United Kingdom tomorrow and more than anyone else, Captain Angelo Mathews is excited about the challenge ahead for several reasons. To start with, this is going to be Mathews’ first series as captain after being given an extended run as team’s Test and ODI captain. Last week, Mathews was confirmed as the captain until the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup. Then, this will be his first Test tour to England.

Mathews so far has played a lot of cricket in England at age group levels and Sri Lanka ‘A’. He in fact won a scholarship from the British High Commission in Sri Lanka in 2006, just after school, to play club cricket for Stanmore. He has also played a lot of ODI and T-20 cricket as well in England, but he hasn’t been involved in any Test Matches as he was injured the last time the national cricket team toured England, in 2011.

That stay with the London based club in 2006 helped him to further develop his game and throughout his stint with Stanmore, there’s only one thing young Mathews wanted to do – to represent the country in Test cricket.

"Like every youngster as I progressed through age group levels, there was only one dream I had and that was to represent the country. I am pretty excited about playing my first Test Match in England," Mathews told The Island after training yesterday, April 30.

"Personally and as a team it’s going to be a massive challenge for us. Adjusting to the conditions is the main challenge. We have got to spend quality time in the nets fine tuning our skills and be ready to compete with them. We have been playing really good cricket in the last few months winning the Asia Cup and the World T-20 and we need to continue that momentum," Mathews added.

The Sri Lankans’ training has been meticulous ahead of the tour. The team has put aside the Kokkaburra balls and instead ordered Dukes balls that are used in England. Dukes balls behave differently to Kokkaburras. The team also has changed training times. Usually the Sri Lankans train from 10 a.m. onwards or from 2 p.m. onwards, but for the contests against England, training starts at 8 a.m. at SLC’s fantastic practice facilities at R. Premadasa Stadium.

"The training has been really good. We have left grass on the wickets and we start training quite early when conditions are damp. We start practice around 8 a.m. when still there’s moisture. When we get there we need to get acclimatized soon. Conditions are going to be different and we need to come up with a good effort," Mathews went onto say.

Mathews also felt happy about the ODIs preceding the Test Matches this time around as the team would have spent more than a month in England by the time the first Test gets underway at Lord’s – the Home of Cricket.

"It will be an advantage as it takes time to get acclimatized to conditions. But it will be still tough. We play a lot of cricket in the sub-continent and the challenge is to get there and play positively."

As Sri Lanka get ready to leave for England, one question that many have asked is that whether the team has the firepower to take 20 wickets in Test cricket.

"Well, we showed that against Pakistan in UAE early this year. Pakistan are a quality team. One thing is that our attack is inexperienced. Suranga Lakmal and Shaminda Eranga have responded brilliantly. We have an inexperienced attack no doubt, but they have improved over the years and this will be a huge series for them."

Mathews has added consistency to his game coming up with crucial knocks since the start of this year in all three formats. "I have worked pretty hard with my technique to try and be consistent. Every time I walk in, I want to score runs. That has been the force behind my success. I have done well with the bat but I have a long way to go."

Mathews received high praise from Kumar Sangakkara a month ago when the star batsman said that he was proud to have ‘Angelo as his captain’. Other senior players too have had high praise for him as he developed as a leader during the last five months. "I am proud to have a legend like Kumar Sangakkara in my team as well. Not just Kumar, there are other truly great players as well in the side like Mahela, Dilshan, Herath and Lasith. The younger guys too have supported me immensely. The team is like a family nowadays."

The family atmosphere within the team has been a huge reason for Sri Lanka’s success in recent times. "That’s very important. Win or lose we need to maintain unity. I am really conscious about that and I feel that I get more than 100 percent from everyone. You walk into the field and you feel like there are 20 guys behind you and not just ten. The family atmosphere within the team is something that we enjoy," Mathews concluded.

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