Sri Lanka, the 1996 World Cup champions and two-time runners-up, come into the tournament as the No.9 ranked ODI side. They have won only six of the 22 one-day internationals they have played since January 2018. Adding to their ask is that several members of their World Cup squad are returning after a spell on the sidelines. Captain Dimuth Karunaratne himself, until last week, hadn’t played any ODI since the last World Cup.
The experienced Mathews, however, urged his side to put the past behind them and “enjoy the moment”. “The biggest challenge will be in overcoming pressure situations,” Matthews told the ICC. “Quite a lot of us have played in England, so we know the conditions. But handling the pressure and the situations well is going to be the challenge."
Matthews, who had captained Sri Lanka during the last edition of the multi-nation tournament, advised his teammates to embrace the challenge and express themselves with freedom.
“In a big tournament like this, you’ve got to play with freedom and embrace it, rather than putting too much pressure on yourself. Yes, it’s a World Cup, you have to perform well to win it, but at the same time you have to embrace the challenge. If you put a lot of pressure on yourself, it adds to your burden. But try and embrace it, look at it as an opportunity to perform, to do something better for the country,” he explained.
87 for Dimuth Karunaratne wasn't enough for Sri Lanka as Andile Phehlukwayo took four wickets for South Africa after skipper Faf du Plessis hit 88.https://t.co/Qd8f7t0Ubf— ICC (@ICC) May 25, 2019
The 31-year old veteran found himself in and out of Sri Lanka’s ODI squad last year, with concerns about fitness and form. However, he appears to have turned it around, hitting two half-centuries and one ton in his last five 50-over games, including 64 in Sri Lanka’s warm-up defeat against South Africa.
In recent months, Matthews has animatedly celebrated his batting milestones, especially in Tests, his vigor directed at his critics. But the all-rounder insisted he was not at the World Cup to prove a point about his place to anybody. “Each game is an opportunity to better your own performance. If you do that, the team will benefit,” he said.
Matthews, who is currently Sri Lanka's second most capped player in ODIs after Lasith Malinga, aims to pass his experience to the younger players in the team. “My ambition is to perform and be consistent. For that I have to look after myself in terms of physical fitness and give my absolute best … and make sure I pass on my experience to the younger players so they benefit as well,” he said.
Sri Lanka play their second warm-up match against Australia on Monday, 27 May, before they begin their campaign against New Zealand in Cardiff on 1 June.