With the hosts losing their openers cheaply, Mendis stepped up yet again and put on 125 runs for the third wicket with Dinesh Chandimal to resurrect their innings. Despite beginning cautiously, he took on part-timer Travis Head to get his strike rate above 100.
“He’s just very positive,” Mathews said. “Especially after losing a couple of wickets in quick succession, the way he went out there and the way he batted was brilliant. Not too many people do that – you take a bit of time and settle in and take a look at the wicket. But he’s just going out there and playing with a lot of freedom. He’s just a different kind of player.
“He’s going to be a big player for us. He’s going to be the future of our batting. If he keeps going like this he will do wonders for the Sri Lankan team and I wish him all the very best. It was a fantastic knock today.”
The hosts were also aided by half-centuries from Mathews himself and Kusal Perera as they went on to post 288 despite James Faulkner picking up a hat-trick in the end. The skipper admitted that Dinesh Chandimal’s consistent run in the middle order has helped some of the other batters to play with more freedom.
“Chandimal’s been tremendous for us in the Test series and also in England,” Mathews said. “He’s matured. He’s also playing with a lot of responsibility – as a senior. He’s anchoring the innings and that’s what we want from him. Him batting at No. 4, we want him to bat until the 46th over, so that guys like Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera and Danushka Gunathilaka can go out there and play with a lot of freedom.
“In our batting line up myself and Chandimal have to take the responsibility to let the youngsters play with freedom.”
Mathews was also impressed with left-arm spinner Amila Aponso, who ended up with a four-wicket haul in just his second ODI. In total, Aponso has conceded only 45 runs in 19.2 overs picking up five wickets in the series so far.
“Not all the spinners bowled very well out there, apart from Amila Aponso – in the first game as well as this game,” he noted. “He’s bowled in these two matches like he’s played internationals for a long time. He’s just landing it on the spot and keeping it pretty simple – just bowling it there and letting the ball do the rest. He’s been turning a few and sliding a few. It’s been extremely difficult for the batters.”
The skipper also backed veteran Tillakaratne Dilshan, who had returned to the side after missing the England series, to turn his fortunes around after he scored only 22 and 10 in the two matches so far. “No matter how experienced you are, it doesn’t mean you will play well all the time,” he said. “You can get unlucky and get out. I got out cheaply in the last game as well. Though Dilshan failed in this match, others played well and won it. We trust that he will play well in the future.”