Angelo Mathews was identified as a future captain and a long-term cornerstone of Sri Lankan cricket well before his ascension into the game's upper echelon of stars, and expectation has closely followed him on his journey to this point.
Mathews is wonderfully talented in both disciplines and a natural leader, and the 27-year-old's bolt to the pinnacle of the game in 2014 has been another case of perfect timing for Sri Lanka, with Mahela Jayawardene retiring from the Test arena and Kumar Sangakkara enjoying the twilight years of his career.
Indeed, Mathews' remarkable rise since being appointed captain has mirrored the arrivals of Jayawardene and Sangakkara more than a decade ago, when Sri Lanka desperately needed new stars to lean on as Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva waved goodbye.
Following extremely successful stints against Pakistan, Bangladesh, England and South Africa already this year, Mathews' golden run of form continued against Misbah-ul-Haq's men in August, propelling Sri Lanka to both Test and one-day international series triumphs.
By Tim Collins, Sep 1, 2014 – Courtesy: BLEACHER REPORT
|91, 25*||Pakistan||Test||Galle||Aug. 6-10|
|39, 43*||Pakistan||Test||Colombo||Aug. 14-18|
With three scores between 89 and 93 and a further three unbeaten innings, the right-hander finished the month with the finest record of all international batsmen across all formats, averaging almost 100 in the process.
And while Sangakkara, Joe Root, Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock all excelled, Mathews' brilliance outshone them all, further enhancing his growing reputation while leading Sri Lanka to a superb run of sustained success.
|Faf du Plessis||6||378||106||63.00||1||3|
|Quinton de Kock||6||361||84||60.16||0||4|
Perhaps most telling of Mathews' supreme stretch with the bat is that he now stands behind only Sangakkara and AB de Villiers in the ICC Test Batsmen Rankings.
Despite starting the year at No. 16, the Sri Lankan skipper has surged ahead of stars such as Michael Clarke, Hashim Amla, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Younis Khan, Jayawardene, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli to become the third highest ranked batsman in the game.
Eranga Jayawardena/Associated Press
It's extremely rare for teams to win Test matches after conceding 450 runs in the first innings, but that's exactly what Sri Lanka did thanks to a pair of outstanding performances by Mathews and Sangakkara against Pakistan in Galle.
In fact, it has been almost four years since a team won a Test after watching an opposing side amass 450 or more. The last time was when India defeated Australia in Bangalore in 2010.
To illustrate how rare such a feat is, of the 420 times a side has conceded 450-plus to begin a Test, only 12 of those games have ended in victory for the team batting second.
Sri Lanka's victory in Galle was the 12th.
Mathews, of course, played a leading role in the remarkable triumph, compiling a smooth 91 alongside Sangakkara's 221 to push the home side past Pakistan's 451 and onto a decisive total of 533-9 declared.
It was also Mathews who struck the winning runs in the second innings as his team cruised to their target of just 99 following Rangana Herath's destruction of Pakistan's batting line-up.
The Road Ahead
Gareth Copley/Getty Images
Deservedly, Mathews and Sri Lanka will now enjoy a three-month layoff following a gruelling schedule that began in January, not set to play again until a one-day international series with England commences on November 26.
Following that seven-match encounter will be both a Test and one-day tour of New Zealand in the lead-up to the 2015 World Cup.
Given Mathews' outstanding form and Sri Lanka's glittering run of results this calendar year, it's possible the tiny island nation could challenge for supremacy at cricket's fast-approaching showpiece.