Split captaincy — a gamble, but a positive one for Sri Lanka

By Dinouk Colombage | January 27, 2013

The captain in waiting Angelo Mathews may not be handed the reigns in all formats. © AFP

Yet another disappointing tour to Australia will come to an end shortly. After the humiliating three-nil whitewash in the Test series, Sri Lanka put on a stronger showing in the ODIs, but failed to secure the series. After the two-match T20 series, the team’s focus will turn to the naming of two new captains — the sports minister confirmed that Sri Lanka will use separate captains for Tests and limited-over matches.

It is a good move, taking into account performances over the past two years. The ODI side maybe in good stead, but in the Test arena though, success has been harder to come by. Only four Tests in the past two years and a single series has been won. Unfortunately these victories have come mainly at the hands of the old horses, while younger players have performed, but their returns have not been headline-worthy.

Since his debut, Angelo Mathews, the talented all-rounder, has been tipped to lead Sri Lanka. Sadly, Mathews has not quite lived up to all the hype, leaving many wondering whether he really is capable of leading the team. Averaging 39 and 34 with the bat in Tests and ODIs respectively, and 70 and 36 with the ball in Tests and ODIs, Mathews has far from justified this billing as Sri Lanka’s ‘captain in waiting’.

Sri Lanka Cricket made the mistake of putting all their eggs in one basket with Mathews, and are now being forced to endure the fallout. Banking on him taking over the captaincy has meant that the selectors failed to have a backup plan, and they now find it difficult to justify his appointment as captain.

The selectors have little choice but to move forward and take a gamble. Appointing two captains — one for ODIs and T20s and another for Tests — is an approach other teams have adopted. Australia uses it, with George Bailey taking over at the helm of T20s, leaving Michael Clarke to lead in the other two formats. While England have Alastair Cook captaining the Test and ODI side, Stuart Broad oversees their T20 team.

So what should Sri Lanka do? Appointing Mathews as Test captain, while taking a punt on Dinesh Chandimal as the ODI and T20 skipper isn’t such a bad idea. Both players have fairly similar records, but unfortunately for Mathews he has played over a longer period of time, and has not been able to up his performances. Splitting the captaincy would reduce pressure on Mathews and the other captain as well, while also giving the selectors more options in case one was to fail.

With the 2015 World Cup in mind, the selectors must go one step further, and look at rebuilding the entire team around the newly appointed captain. This would mean taking the tough decision of encouraging the likes of Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan to retire from the shorter formats. Such a move will not be initially welcomed by their supporters, but it is one that must be seriously considered, taking the long-term future of the team into account. By the time 2015 rolls around, the senior trio will be in their late 30s. Furthermore, barring Sangakkara, the other two have not been in the best of touch, and on form they do not always warrant immediate selection. In Mathews, Chandimal and Thirimanne Sri Lanka possess three players that could potentially replace the three outgoing players as the mainstays.

While the fast bowling ranks are sparsely populated, there are still options available. Thankfully for Sri Lanka, spin bowling does not appear to be an issue, as slow bowlers continue to sprout up around the country. The country is also fortunate enough to have a host of fringe players, and over the next two years, in the lead-up to the World Cup, they can rotate them. While experience will be lacking in this team, the 2013 Champions Trophy can be used as an opportunity for the selectors to test out a younger team on the world stage.

Test cricket has been far from prosperous for the Sri Lankans, and they are left with little choice but to take baby steps in the five-day format. This transition must be a far more gradual one under the new captain, with the aim of blooding younger players.

Sri Lanka’s transition phase will not be an easy one, however, it is an opportunity for the selectors and the team to start afresh.

© Island Cricket


UppercuT's picture
Member since:
19 October 2011
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1 year 4 weeks

Ranatunga averaged 35 in tests, while Jayasuriya averaged 40. Mahela averages 33 in ODIs.

May be Mathews hasn't lived up to his billing as a 'test all-rounder', but he has done more than adequately as a pure batsman in both forms(yes he has thrown away his wicket several times,even with that)and done excellent job as an ODI all-rounder. If the batting 'average' determines the quality of the captain then Lara and Tendulkar should ve made 'great captains' but they didn't!
Not everyone will boast Sangasque, Jayawardenesque 50+ averages. But that doesn't mean that certain player hasn't lived up to the hype!

ricardo de f..'s picture

absolute rubbish......... if there was to be a split in the captaincy it should have been when sanga resigned . not now. for better or for worse, angelo HAS to be given the captaincy for at least TWO years in all three formats. the rifts that a "split captaincy " can cause when two relatively young players are appointed will be many. there are more negatives than positives in split captaincy, especially if the captains are playing all three formats. perhaps not the case if one is not playing all three.. so rather than experimenting at this juncture, the sensible thing would be to hand it over to angelo for a period of time. If his form is so affected that his place in the side is in question then he should be dropped ... PERIOD!!. but if hes good enough to play in all three formats he is also good enough to lead in all three.. ideally angelos should be an ERA and not a "time"... lets all try and look towards achieving that .

Last Man Out's picture
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7 November 2010
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11 weeks 1 day

As Uppercut_7 correctly says the players with the best stats don't necessarily make the best captains.Angelo Matthews have been backed to be captain since sanga gave up the captaincy. Don't know where this idea of split captaincy came from but chandimal is not ready to be captain. We don't need to add more pressure to the best young batsmen we've got.Matthews has been in the sri lankan setup for five years now.He is the best man to navigate the sometimes not so straight and narrow world of SLC.

Sakala Bujang's picture
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8 April 2011
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Completely agree with what you guys are saying, the captaincy should remain Angelo's for all three formats; split captaincy is a good idea, but it doesn't work if there isn't a second captain good enough.

Hatem's picture
Member since:
23 June 2009
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4 years 28 weeks

I totally disagree with the Author of this write up. i am sorry he may have experience in sports journalism but he doesn't make sense in what he has said here. i hope he answers all these comments we put up.

Firstly my dear friend decision of Sri Lankan Selectors have always been debatable. I think you first have a rough idea of who would your playing eleven is in all three formats before naming a captain. Let me get straight to what u have said here.

If you start going into the statistics you just put out lots of cricketers in our team should be whipped. How can you take Angelo Mathews averages in deciding if he should be captain or not. He is not a top 4 batter in any of the formats. his only batted in 2 matches at number 5 in tests the rest have been between 6 and 8. he bats half the time with tail in all formats. so please dont judge his captaincy ability with stats please if you want to do that send him in at at number 4 and then judge.

Split Captaincy. Please note your examples. Michael Clarke doesnt play the T20 format hence they have another captain. Same with England Cook doesnt play so Broad captains. Smilarly Hafeez captains Pakistan because Misbah doesnt play T20. In this case Angelo Mathews makes all three sides its absolutely baseless arguement to break the captaincy here.

Dinesh Chandimal over Mathews as Test Captain. Dinesh Chandimal over the last 12 months hasn't been in all three teams. He came in as a replacement for jayawardena at sydney so how can you go make him captain. As i see right now Thirimanne has cemented his place over Thilan Samaraweera. So the selectors would probably have to drop Prasanna Jayawardena to bring in Chandimal. Then there is those averages you just spoke about. If chandimal keeps he will not be batting in the top 5.

Trying not to give the Test Captaincy to Angelo Mathews after having him for 2 years as vice captain is just conspiracy which i basically dont understand. Dilshan shouldnt never have captained it should have been jayawardena who should have taken it immediately and then handed it to Mathews.

Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne should be fighting it out for Vice Captain in the leadership race there is no other horse in the running, this is not what i think its what most people think including the channel 9 commentary team .

Bangaldesh and Zimbabwe will be an easier path for Mathews to get into the job. So he should be named captain in all three forms .

sage-leaf's picture

I think split captaincy is good. Angelo has not lived up to what we initially thought he could be. He was very promising at the start of his career but lost his way just like Kapugedara. At times it is very annoying to watch him play. But I must say something here. He has the credential to be one of the great players of the game. I guess it’s all about attitude and knowledge of the game. He has played more than 90 ODI’s and still to score a century.

On the other hand Chandimal and Thirimanne have scored centuries with great opponents like England and Australia. I think Thirimanne or Chandimal should be SL next ODI and T20 captain. Let Angelo concentrate on test. Also may be 50 over format and let Chandimal be T20 skipper. SL has a great young talent and they should utilize their services soon. It time to bid farewell to Mahela, Sanga and Dilshan. They have done a great service to SL but it’s time for SL to look for young talent. I think Kaushal Perera is better keeper than Chandimal.

I think we should get rid of our local coaches too if we want to move forward. The Australian tour was a disaster. Not sure how our coaches helped our players. The fitness levels our players, fielding; batting was so pathetic to watch. Not sure why Mahela is still playing while he was having a bad run with the bat.
Our young players need guidance and knowledge. It was lacking during the Aussie tour. Just re run the tapes of how Tissara Perera was bowling. When you are bowling to great players like Wanner , Hussey and Clarke, you have to ensure you are smarter than them. It’s like our players have not done home work. The fielding was not challenging until the first T20. When you play the game to the highest level there is no room for complacency. But SL can do much better by right people guiding them to be more professional.

kenneth's picture


Anonymous's picture

What a poor article by the author, this is politics. Some people mentioning the names which even don't have a place in the team. Talking about his average, before the aussie tour Angelo had average of 40+,maybe he wasn't live up to the expectation for some segment, then who did well in the tour? and why we couldn't win a match (test) in aussie? Let's go back to the history have we ever won a test in aussie under any captain(I am not sure whether we have won )? Talking about Angelo's capability's he have the "captain" experience more than any previous captains, before they captain the national side. The fault is not the players, but the structure of sri lankan cricket. It's a fact that we are not good enough to play in bouncy wickets, mainly in the longer version. This article shows the cricket knowledge of the author.


Marcian's picture
Member since:
8 December 2010
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1 year 10 weeks

It's irrational to have two or three young captains when they haven't yet cemented their place in the team i.e. Chandimal and Thirimanne.

Mathews is the only option in all three formats; he was groomed for two years and he should be given the captaincy unless there's some sort of prejudice involved.

To suggest Chandimal or anyone else is like clutching at straws: its more out of hope and wishful thinking than logic.

Mathews average of 39-40 is quite decent for a number four batsman. Remember he's left to bat with tailenders more often than not because the top order routinely fails to put a decent score to build on in recent times. The criticism of Mathews average is unjustified.

Marcian's picture
Member since:
8 December 2010
Last activity:
1 year 10 weeks

Mathews has a better average than two of the seniors in the last three years in Test match cricket.

Sanga: matches 27; average 58.

Samaraweera: matches 25; average 43.

Mathews: matches 24; average 40.

Mahela: matches 28; average 34.

Dilshan: matches 24; average 34.

He has done a pretty good job at four when you compare him to Mahela and Dilshan since Jan 2010 - 3 year period.

And they say 26-33 years are the most productive years for a batsman: the best of Mathews is yet to come.

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