Barring Chamara Kapugedera's 30, no other Sri Lankan top order batsman put up a fight against India. © AFP

Barring Chamara Kapugedera’s 30, no other Sri Lankan top order batsman put up a fight against India. © AFP

Angelo Mathews isn’t a happy man. He is one of the senior members of a Sri Lankan team that hasn’t done too much right in the recent past, and he is the one who has had to front up to the media more often than anyone else. It hasn’t been easy, answering the same questions over and over.

After yet another defeat, this time by five wickets to India in the Asia Cup 2016 game on Tuesday (March 1), Mathews sounded upset. And while reading too much between the lines wouldn’t be fair, he seemed to hint that the problem was with the selection.

He looked sapped as he started, “I am repeating myself every day – we have the team we have, we are depending on a handful of seniors most of the time. If the seniors fail, we are in a spot of bother. Especially in a tournament like the Asia Cup and the World Cup, you need a lot of seniors in the team. Unfortunately, we haven’t clicked. It will take a little time for the younger guys to start performing. We have to be patient, but this is not the right time to be patient.”

Asked about Tillakaratne Dilshan’s continued run of poor form, Mathews was defensive to start with, but then sounded a bit impatient even as he stressed on the need to be patient at this juncture. “I think everybody hits a rough patch. He has had a few rough patches here and there and his last few innings were not very good,” Mathews, standing in as captain for the injured Lasith Malinga, said. “We must take responsibility. Not just the seniors. The selectors and the captain have picked a squad which they think is good. And so we have to try and go out there with who we have in the squad. We need to have faith in them and move forward.

“Everyone has to perform. This is a big stage and no one is here to learn. This is a stage where you have to perform. You can’t rely on a handful of seniors. We all know Dilshan has been a great servant of Sri Lankan cricket for a long time, and I don’t think this is the time to make that massive change (of dropping him). It’s whatever the selectors and the captain think; I am just the stand-in captain. But I think we have to be patient and hope the batting line-up fires in the next game.”

Using the Indian example of sticking with a core group of players and tinkering only when necessary, Mathews elaborated, “The Indians have been playing really good cricket in the past couple of years. They have been patient and sticking to a squad they thought was going to be their team for the World Cup. That’s what you’ve got to do, stick with a team and be patient. Be patient with whoever you pick without chopping and changing too much, especially before the Asia Cup and World Cup. You have to be ready to go. You have to chop and change and check combinations before.”

For the record, Mathews himself has had an average run with the bat, scoring 8, 12 and 18 mostly scratchy runs, though he has held his own with the ball.

From Mathews’s words, it was also evident that the mood in the camp wasn’t at its best following the sequence of poor performances. “It’s quite damaging, especially the confidence level and the morale. You can’t keep losing; it’s difficult to digest,” he said. “We haven’t played our best yet and the most worrying thing is that we haven’t clicked as a batting order. So close to the World Cup, we have to connect the dots together and maybe try a few combinations. But all we have is what we have at the moment. We just have to be positive.”

It wasn’t all doom and gloom as far as Mathews was concerned, though, and the total of 138 for 9 the team put up batting first in what has been a low-scoring tournament went down well with him. “I kind of sensed a positive approach in our batting today and that’s how we have to play. Just be positive and hope the batting order clicks,” he pointed out. “I thought our approach was good, our intent was to score runs. We didn’t want to just hang in there. We knew if one of us got going, we’d score 160-170. You can’t really think the next person will score runs for you. You have to be prepared and positive.

“I initially thought we had a challenging score on the board, but once the dew came in, it was hard for the bowlers. The ball stopped swinging after the first few overs, it stopped gripping and it was tough for the spinners.”

Another positive for Sri Lanka was Chamara Kapugedara’s performance. He didn’t set the Mirpur night alight after being asked to bat at No. 7 and No. 8 in the last two games, but on his elevation to No. 4, he held the innings together with a 32-ball 30.

Explaining the rationale behind moving Kapugedara up and down the batting order, Mathews said, “Kapu is one of the senior guys. We are trying to utilise Kapu where he is best. We have changed the order because of the left-right combination in the middle. But this is the batting order we had planned. He didn’t get a go in the first couple of games but he showed his character today. He is very experienced, and we needed to play with a lot of freedom.”

One complaint the Sri Lankans would have had was about the stumping of Thisara Perera. Perera had lashed out late in the Sri Lankan innings, smashing 17 runs from five balls, when, off the sixth, he stepped out and was stumped as R Ashwin sent the ball wide. The umpire didn’t refer it to TV replays and went with his gut feel. If he had gone upstairs, Perera might well have stayed in the middle for longer. “You want to put me on the spot,” said Mathews with a laugh when the question was asked. “It’s a human error. We have to take it and move on. But if you have the technology you can use it.”