He is the prince in waiting in Lankan cricket or is he? Since he made his international debut against Zimbabwe as an all-rounder at the age of 20 in 2008, Angelo Mathews was considered as the first in the next generation of Sri Lanka cricket.
The old Joe who came in with a bang lived up to his reputation. Then it did not take very long for him to catch the eye of the talent starved selectors, make them put him on the pedestal and keep him as the prince in waiting.
In Sri Lanka’s last tour of England, he was picked as the vice captain, but it was an elevation only by name but in reality the others shouldered the burden. Yet, the Lankans were not bothered because he had to be groomed as he was the thing in the mould.
It happened so during the 2011 Cricket World Cup semi-final against New Zealand the promising young all rounder walked off the field halfway through the match and also sat out for the vital final in Mumbai through injury. Then the cricketing gentry learned that Mathews was living with a recurring injury and it was a part and parcel of his career.
Then he became like the traffic light at the ‘Thunmulla Junction’. When the green light is there he is in the Lankan side as an all-rounder. Amber means he is only a bat and the red means he is still in the reckoning, but he is in nursing. In Australia, he bowled during the Commonwealth series and did his job very well, but the wagon wheel came off halfway through. During the Asia Cup, the lad sat out and during the England Test series it was Amber light for him. Still the Lankan cricket fanatics did not mind.
Then it was time for the Indian Premier League. Initially, some wondered if the young all-rounder would be a part of the proceedings, given his injury that kept him away from bowling during the England series and chief selector Asantha de Mel’s remark that he may be only considered as a batsman in future national engagements.
However the Pune Warriors physio Steve Mount who examined the cricketer pronounced that the cricketer had fully recovered from his nagging injury and he was cleared to bowl again. The gingerly treading performer is now back in action and is an integral part of the Warriors in full sense of cricket.
This action of the young cricketer has angered a lot of people especially those who have been his avid fans. They feel they have been let down. For them especially Angelo Mathews doing this seem like an act of betrayal. They genuinely feel hurt.
Since then much has been said and many shots have been fired, but has anyone delved into the matter objectively with an open mind. Where the trouble lies is not within the Lankan shores. The IPL is definitely is a huge lure and the cricketers are its prey. The Indian Premier League serves its purpose for Indian cricket (This is also debatable when it comes to the question of Test cricket played overseas – India’s two series against England and Australia is ample testimony to this). The IPL has unearthed a basketful of home grown talent which may have been overlooked and the latest being the Rajasthan Royal’s opener Ajinkya Rahane. Ravichandran Ashwin is another cricketer who purely made his way to the top with the IPL ladder.
At the same time countries like Sri Lanka have lost with the advent of the IPL. Literally the biggest amongst Sri Lanka’s losses was Malinga the fast bowler who opted to skip Test cricket for the country with the bottom-line idea of prolonging his IPL career. Even during Sri Lanka’s Australian excursion Malinga shone in patches, but at the IPL he has lived up to his ‘Mumbai Idol’ role and is one of the best performers even in this year’s tournament. Then Aththachchi Nuwan Pradeep Roshan Fernando who was hired by the Royal Challengers Bangalore -- another promising fast bowler in store -- to be one of their net bowlers last year. He came back overworked and injured proposition and never was the same again. Now it is the Mathews saga -- and only the future would tell us what the repercussion of physio Steve Mount’s pronouncement would mean to Sri Lanka’s cricket.
Yet the views of a former cricketer and those who played at the highest level even prior to the concept of T-20 cricket was hatched are also worth listening to. This cricketer who has been involved in almost every aspect of Lankan cricket looks at this whole episode from a different perspective. For him Mathews is only one of those cricketers in the melting pot. He sees the situation of a man who’s only known skill is cricket and this cricketer has performed better than the others to get to this position.
Yet, unlike any other ‘white collared’ office worker whose job is almost certain till the age of fifty five, a cricketer’s performing life span is shorter. For this cricketer the lure of an arguably a million dollars is a huge sum. He thinks the way that any other would think about his vocation. He knows that he has to play one month’s cricket and bowl only four overs a match. If he performs well in this tournament the next contract would be even more lucrative. Besides that if injury or indifferent form bugs him he even might have a premature end to his career.
More than that, the IPL money is sure. The guarantee comes from the Board of Control for Cricket in India. It is like the day at the devil’s workshop.
At the same time India is so powerful that there is an unofficial window opened in the calendar. The Australia-West Indies series is the only series that is going on at the moment. Yet see how many Australians and West Indians are involved in IPL Cricket. Wouldn’t some of those huge West Indian names served the real West Indian cause differently? Just see how many cricketing nomads that the IPL has bred so far.
Now the Bangladesh Premier League is gathering the momentum. Big bash is huge in Australia. The South African T-20 tournament is around the corner. The day is not very far away that England too will launch its own million dollar EPL or whatever it is. In Sri Lanka there is something boiling up for July this year. For sure we know the Pakistani cricketers are waiting for it and they have earned enough chips to be the best limited overs cricketers in Asia. All these tournaments will need the international blend. The IPL already has sown the seeds to this international misdeed.
The next question is: if all these international T-20 tournaments and the impending additional ones are going to be played during the year wouldn’t this affect the international cricket calendar?
Just see in Sri Lanka the SLC is struggling to honour the player contracts. It took them almost a year to agree upon it and then another good period to make it good. Besides the rich cricket boards, the others may feel the pinch if cricketers keep moving from one T-20 to the other.
Now the cricketers need the national crest only as a vehicle for recognition. Once they have it they are on the road for a few dollars more.
We feel, the ICC has miserably failed or it is refusing to look at the reality because it does not want to hurt India and rock the boat. Yet for cricket’s sake the ICC must look at this phenomenon in an objective manner or else the game may die a natural death.