Angelo Mathews stripped of ODI captaincy and then dropped from upcoming Tour

Angelo Mathews’ has endured a significant fall from grace in recent weeks. The 31 year old, who resigned from his four year stint as captain last year only to be reinstated months later, lost the ODI captaincy position earlier this week, being replaced by Test captain Dinesh Chandimal. Just days later, he was dropped from the ODI squad set to face England in October.

According to selectors, the axing is largely related to fitness issues. Mathews has shown a tendency to be involved in numerous run-outs throughout his career, with coach Chandika Hathurusingha stating that ‘if you look at his record, he has been involved in about 64 runout, and 49 times the opposite guy got run out. That’s a world record’. Hathurusingha also noted that ‘running between the wickets is a very big concern for us at the moment’, and as a result the powers that be felt it fitting that Mathews spend some time away from the side.

Likely, it appears that this won’t be an extended period away from the squad. In delivering the reasoning behind the stripping of the captaincy and axing from the side, Hathurusingha repeatedly stressed the need for Mathews to be given a chance to work on his fitness in away from the side, in order to be able to return ‘as fresh as possible, and clear as possible, to serve the Sri Lankan team’.

Mathews, however, clearly disagreed with the decision. He penned a letter to the CEO reminding them that he had been the highest run scorer in their previous ODI series, while also stating that retirement may be need to be considered on his behalf to avoid ‘being a burden to the team’, if he is indeed unfit to play the shorter forms of the game. It is also believed that Mathews demanded a fitness test in order to prove that he was sufficiently fit to play at the highest level.

While there is no doubt Mathews has shown a propensity to cause problems with his running between the wickets, his displeasure can be understood when considering his record. The former captain, as he mentioned himself, was the sides highest run scorer in the recent series against South Africa, and has averaged 59 since 2017. Over the course of his career he has been one of the stars of Sri Lankan cricket, averaging 42.36 at a strike rate of 83.39 with the bat in ODI’s, and 34.21 with the ball. Clearly, he is a superb player, and is still at the peak of his powers. According to selectors, however, the pressure his poor movement between the wickets places on other batsmen is too great a burden to continue to carry - at least for the time being.

Given Sri Lanka’s recent disappointing showing at the Asia Cup, it is likely that Mathews is being made an example of by selectors. Sri Lanka, World Cup finalists in 2007 and 2011 and once ranked as highly as 2nd in the world in the 50-over format, have dropped to 8th place, and never were their problems more clear than at their most recent tournaments. Playing first Bangladesh and then Afghanistan in the group stage, Sri Lanka were comfortably defeated both times, by 137 runs and 91 runs respectively. They failed to bat past the 42nd over both times, scoring a total of just 282 runs in the two innings. Clearly not solely the fault of Mathews - who scored 16 and 22 in the two matches - the Sri Lankan selectors obviously determined that something had to change, and change it certainly has.

With Mathews missing from the squad, there is no doubt that the Sri Lankan team is significantly weakened heading into the tour against England. He is probably their best batsman, and a capable bowler when used, which he has been very rarely over the past year - perhaps also a product of his supposed lack of fitness. Regardless, their batting lineup will take a hit, and England will be more than happy to face a Sri Lankan side without Mathews. 

The statements by selectors, however, suggest that this is far from a permanent solution, and appears to be an attempt to take one step backwards in order to take two forwards. Having a captain with what they obviously perceived to have relatively low standards of fitness is something which has the capacity to permeate throughout the team, and removing him from this position - as well as taking the even more drastic step of removing him from the team - sends a clear message to every other player in the squad that poor fitness will not be tolerated. The ideal scenario, and what the SLC are surely hoping will come to pass, is that Mathews comes back more dedicated to his fitness and a better player, and that the rest of the team follows suit. It’s a move which many will see as excessive, but given the current state of Sri Lankan cricket, something needed to be done. Who knows - maybe this will have an impact.

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