Elevated as captain at the last minute for the ICC World Twenty20 because of an injury to the designated skipper Lasith Malinga, top Sri Lanka all-rounder Angelo Mathews on Wednesday said he took up the challenge as he could not let his country down.
“I was told to lead the team in the World Cup. How can I say no? I can’t let the team and country down. I will take this as a positive as I know they have trust in me. I will try my best to do whatever is possible to get to the top with the team I have,” said Mathews at the pre-tournament media conference in Mumbai.
The 28-year-old Test captain maintained that the change at the helm will not affect the team as the players are focused.
“It’s unfortunate that Malinga is not fit as yet, so we had to take that call, but he’s a very important person in our team. So we kept him in the squad hoping he would be fit to play our first game (on March 17). We want him to rest and recover properly.
“After he resigned as captain I was asked to take over. We are not very disturbed as the administrators know what needs to be done. As cricketers it’s important for us to focus on this tournament. We are not really worried about what’s happening outside,” Mathews said.
Sri Lanka will be defending the title that it won by beating India in the final two years ago in Bangladesh.
“They have given me the team that I wanted. Now it’s a matter of going there and expressing ourselves, play with a lot of freedom and positivity. That’s what I expect.
“I don’t want them to think we are going to win the World Cup. I want them to take it one game at a time and play with a lot of freedom. If we do that I am sure we are going to beat most of the teams,” said the new skipper.
Mathews felt that the underdogs tag suited Sri Lanka.
“Not going as favourites is doing a favour to us. We have admitted we have not played good cricket in the Asia Cup (won by India recently in Bangladesh), but the morale in the team is quite good. It’s a new series and we are hoping that we will click. We are starting our campaign from tomorrow (with a practice game) and hopefully we can go till the end,” he said.
Mathews said Malinga is set to miss Thursday’s practice game against New Zealand in Mumbai.
“We are hoping Lasith will be fit for the first game of the tournament. As of now the plan is he won’t be playing the first practice game. But we know the quality he has in him. We know he can train for a few days and walk straight into the match. We (however) don’t really know the current situation.”
Mathews, who came into international prominence in the 2009 World T20, conceded he was not mentally prepared to take over as captain when Malinga got injured.
“I was not (mentally prepared). But I have the experience of captaining for quite a few years now. It’s a challenge. Whether or not you are the captain you have a certain role to play in the team.
“The selectors and Lasith have been planning for this tournament for a long time. They have worked together and now it’s all a different situation. So I have to do the best and get the best out of the team which I have.”
Mathews said all the teams looked evenly matched.
“It’s going to be a tough tournament as all the teams are even. Whoever plays better on a particular day will obviously come out winners. We are not looking too far ahead. We want to take one game at a time, get the momentum going and if we get that going I am pretty sure no one can stop us.”
The all-rounder said that in the recently-concluded Asia Cup the team played below par and got eliminated.
“It was a challenging tournament for us, especially going into the series as current champions. We found it really hard even to compete. That’s something that can be admitted. We did not play good enough cricket to get into the final.
“But this is a fresh tournament for us. We learned so many things from the Asia Cup and we will take it as an experience going forward into the ICC World Cup,” he said.
“We have an inexperienced team compared to previous World Cup squads. A major role has to be played by the experienced guys. To fill in the shoes of (Kumar) Sangakkara and Mahela (Jayawardene) will take quite a bit of time. All we got to do is to be patient, try and build the squads for the World Cups which we didn’t do actually. We were quite impatient.”