“Those things I can’t control, It’s not under my control,” he said of his initial exclusion. “So, what I can control is keep pushing myself individually in terms of fitness, bowling, batting, everything. I mean, when the opportunity comes, I have to be ready.
“I just did that over the last month or so. I was training extremely hard at HPC with the other boys as well. So, I was giving myself a chance to… if I get the opportunity, to be prepared. But as I said, I didn’t expect [the call-up], because after the 15 was selected, I was not expecting. But it is what it is, the opportunity came.”
It can at times be a blow to the ego, especially when someone as senior as Mathews is named a traveling reserve, as he initially was. However, he looked at it as an opportunity to contribute to the group in whatever way he could.
Mathews is “grateful” to the opportunity, and hopes to rekindle the “fun” and try to keep Sri Lanka alive in the competition. But how does one explain the suddenness of his call-up? Mathews himself couldn’t. All he knows is he has a wealth of experience to bank on.
For starters, he is keeping his mantra simple: contribute wherever he can, with bat and “if required” with the ball. The last bit a giveaway that he’s ready to bowl, something he has often been reluctant to do in recent years because of injury.
“Now I am, I would say, a little more mature than who I was before to sort of shut down the things which I have to and then focus on what I have to focus on. So, all I am trying to control is the controllables, and I try not to worry too much.”
“Yeah, look, I’ve probably seen it all over the last 15 years,” he said with a smile, when asked about the twists and turns of an eventful career that has now brought him here. “So it’s quite easy for me to sort of focus on what I have to do rather than getting too affected on what’s happening around me because cricket has taught me so much over the years.
“And then now I am, I would say, a little more mature than who I was before to sort of shut down the things which I have to and then focus on what I have to focus on. So, all I am trying to control is the controllables, and I try not to worry too much. Well, obviously, we are people with emotions and then reacting for those emotions is going to damage you, so I try to keep calm and then focus on what I have to do and then obviously always do the right thing.”
The wheels of fortunes may have turned for Mathews at the Lanka Premier League this year, when he led B-Love Kandy to the title. Mathews contributed equally with bat and ball, hitting 210 runs and picking up seven wickets across 11 matches. He drew confidence from that performance.
“I played only like three [white-ball] games over the last two or three years,” he said. “But I had a good LPL. I bowled batted and fielded well. So that gave me the confidence. And also, as I always say, I just try to focus on my fitness, trying to be fit, bowl a few overs, and keep myself fit and trying to give myself a chance. If I do get the opportunity, then to grab it with both hands.”
Asked what his message to his mates would be, Mathews, genial at the best of times, said in no uncertain terms that the only option against England would be to “fight fire with fire”.
“Whether you play at home or away or in England or any other neutral venue, it’s always a contest between the English because we know the brand of cricket that they play and it’s all about you got to be positive with them,” he said. “If you if you take a backward step, they are going to jump on to you and then they’re going to take the advantage but we need to sort of be positive with them.
“As I keep saying, you have to fight fire with fire. We know that they are a high-quality team. They are a very well-balanced team. And they can hurt us badly if we are being complacent. I mean, obviously we have to play our A game to win against a strong English team. Even though they haven’t played to their potential [at the World Cup so far], they are a very dangerous team.”
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo