Kusal Perera impressed with his explosive batting at the top of the order in the warm-up game. © AFP

Sri Lanka’s recent record in ICC events has been most impressive, though ultimate glory has eluded them since Arjuna Ranatunga lifted the World Cup in Lahore in March 1996. Those performances have understandably raised expectations back home, and Angelo Mathews, who leads a team containing three former One-Day International captains, was keen to downplay the past of the eve of Sri Lanka’s Champions Trophy opener against New Zealand on Sunday (June 9) in Cardiff.

“People keep saying we’ve done pretty well in the recent past, but that’s past,” he said. “I think as a team, we still have to go a long way, but we are not looking too far ahead. It will be in the back of our mind, but we just want to try to take one game at a time and try to win the first game.”

Sri Lanka’s first practice game against Pakistan was washed out, and India then beat them in a run-fest. With several members of the squad having had little playing time during the 2013 Indian Premier League, Mathews admitted that they had taken the practice games pretty seriously. “We were not worried about the results; we just wanted to get some good opportunity for all of the guys or rather most of the guys to feel the conditions, to try to get used to the conditions, and we did that,” he said.

Part of the challenge for Sri Lanka, as for the other sides, is to come to grips with the new rules. “It is not really easy, but I think with the new rules we have to think one step ahead all the time,” said Mathews. “It keeps you on your toes for the 50 overs.”

The short-sharp Champions Trophy format also leaves little room for a sloppy performance. “I think all the teams are here to achieve one goal, and all of the teams feel that pressure,” said Mathews. “I think it’s up to each individual how to go about the pressure, and I think in this tournament it’s going to be really important to start it well.”

Mathews didn’t go along with the opinion that Lasith Malinga was carrying extra weight, and he spoke instead of how he led the bowling unit. “He’s very professional the way he goes about things, and he knows exactly what to do and how to do it,” said Mathews. “He’s our premier bowler, and he gets the bowling unit with him.”

Though they’re likely to field as many as four pace options, including himself, Mathews implied that Sri Lanka would certainly play both Rangana Herath and Sachithra Senanayake. “On this pitch, the spinners might come into play,” he said. “It looks like it’s going to be slow as the game goes on, but we’ve got our options open.”