Mathews will be captain again when the three-match series gets under way today, as he was when Sri Lanka inflicted an agonising defeat on England with the penultimate ball of the match two years ago. That brought them their first outright series victory in this country, while England’s last man James Anderson was left in tears when he propped a catch into the gathered leg-side field off Shaminda Eranga after resisting for more than 20 overs with centurion Moeen Ali.
For company back then, Mathews had Sri Lanka’s two greatest batsmen, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
They have since retired from Test cricket, of course, and Mathews believes Sri Lanka’s best chance of more success in England is to allow the relatively recent past to remain there.
“It’s certainly an inspiration, but it’s history for us,” he said.
“We will cherish it for the rest of our lives, but we have to move on and look forward to the challenge at Headingley.”
Mathews’s career-best 160 was the defining contribution to Sri Lanka’s 100-run win last time, the tourists’ second innings careering out of control for his opposite number Alastair Cook as he and Rangana Herath put on 149 for the eighth wicket.
With cloudy, often damp, weather expected, Mathews said: “We’ll have to play our best cricket over the next five days to beat England, because we know they are a very competitive team – especially in this kind of weather, playing against England in England. It’s a very tough ask.”
They must do so without the reassurance of two middle-order batsman who made more than 24,000 Test runs between them.
“We don’t have the two legends now – we’ve got to move on,” added Mathews.
“But they’ve shared their experience, and it’s just a matter of our guys getting used to the conditions – they’ve got the skill, they’ve got the talent.
“The ball will tend to swing and seam quite a lot, but don’t get intimidated by the conditions – watch the ball and hit it.”
Sri Lanka will wear black armbands at Headingley, following the loss of many lives and thousands of homes to floods and landslides in their home country.
“We’re so sad to hear about all the casualties and the hundreds and thousands of people affected,” explained Mathews. “We want to show our love and support. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with them.”