On Sunday in Colombo, Angelo Mathews made his long-awaited comeback to Sri Lanka’s T20 side, after a three-year hiatus, and showed his worth instantly, helping the hosts edge Zimbabwe in a thriller.
Playing for the first time in a T20I since March 2021, Mathews bagged the Player of the Match award for scoring 46 runs with the bat and bowling two tight overs (2-0-13-0).
It was a successful return to the side for the 36-year-old, but the veteran did not hold back after the game.
When questioned why he was out of the side for three long years, Mathews insisted that it was the ‘agenda of the former selection panel’ that kept him out. He pointed towards his Lanka Premier League numbers (614 runs @ 34.11 and 7 wickets @ 23.9 in the last three seasons) and claimed that if selections were being done on merit, he would have found a spot in the side.
"In the last two Lanka Premier League (LPL) seasons I batted and bowled well, but unfortunately I wasn't selected for the T20 World Cups, and I wasn't given reasons for that," he said on Sunday, after the game.
"If you take decisions that are driven by agendas, these kinds of things can happen - we haven't even qualified for the Champions Trophy.
"But one thing I believe is that if you train and play wholeheartedly, you can create an environment for yourself where you can perform. I kept my efforts up over the last couple of years. I think I can play for a little while longer."
Back in the T20 fold now, under the new selection panel headed by former batter Upul Tharanga, Mathews revealed that the communication from the new selectors have been very clear. He revealed that the new panel are keen to see him bowl regularly, and he himself is more than happy to contribute with the ball consistently.
"The communication with me and the new selectors is quite clear. They asked me what my plans were for the future and [told me] their plans as well. We had a very good discussion,” Mathews said.
“They said that I'm in their plans for the T20 World Cup, and if I could bowl a few overs. I said: 'Absolutely - if I can help the team in any way'.
"I've been bowling in the LPL as well, and you saw me bowling in the [domestic] one-dayers as well recently. If I can bowl a few overs that helps the balance of the team and the captain can decide whether he wants to play an extra batter or a bowler."
As far as the game is concerned, Sri Lanka were in deep trouble at one point, reeling at 83/6 chasing 144. Mathews and Dasun Shanaka were the last recognized pair, and the veteran revealed that the two merely focused on taking the game deep. As it turned out, Sri Lanka got over the line on the very last ball, with Dushmantha Chameera taking 6 off the final 2 deliveries.
"When we batted together I talked to Dasun about how if one of us gets out it will be really difficult," Mathews said. "We thought it would be better if we batted until the 16th or 17th over, and keep the required rate at an achievable level - around 10 runs an over. In the end we had to go after their best bowlers as well. We took some calculated risks.
"Dasun played a good innings, and the person who played the most important innings was Dushmantha Chameera who got six off the last two balls, or else everything else we did would have been meaningless."
The second T20I will be played on Tuesday (January 16) at the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo.