Heaping praise on Lahiru Thirimanne for his match-winning hundred against Pakistan in the Asia Cup final, Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews said the youngster is shaping up to be the perfect replacement for veteran Kumar Sangakkara once he calls it a day.
"You push him up the order or down, he's one of those players who scores runs wherever he gets an opportunity. He is a great find for us," Mathews said of Thirimanne who scored 101 in their clinical five-wicket win over Pakistan to seal the Asia Cup title here on Saturday night.
"After Sangakkara and Mahela (Jayawardene) retire, Thirimanne and (Dinesh) Chandimal are the ones who are going to take up their roles. It's not easy to fill their shoes. But the way they are performing right now, I'm pretty sure that they will take the responsibilities.
"He (Thirimanne) has been amazing for us. He got injured in the last series unfortunately. He still had a little bit of niggle in last two innings while he batted. He was very courageous to come out and play," added Mathews.
Thirimanne got the opener's role after Tillakaratne Dilshan pulled out because of a finger injury during their series against Bangladesh here and Mathews said the left-hander could score runs at any spot. "We have to see how it goes. He got to open the innings because Dilshan got injured in the Bangladesh series. As I've said, you give him the opportunity he will score runs for us. We still have not thought where he's going to bat but definitely he's been a find for us in this tournament."
Mathews also hailed Lasith Malinga whose five for 56 set up the win as Pakistan were restricted to 260/5. Mathews said it was a masterstroke to save the searing pacer for the summit clash. "We saved him for the final... He was rested for the game against Bangladesh. It's not easy to play consistently. The fast bowlers tire out so much and we don't have enough rest days in between.
"You have to manage their workload. He got a five-for in the first match and also today. He's performing for us for so many years. I am very pleased the way he bowled today." (Match in pics)
Hailing the whole side, Mathews said it was sheer hard work and not just their long stint in Bangladesh that made it possible. "Just because we stayed here for a longer period does not mean that we should automatically win. It's the hard work that has paid off. It gave us the edge but I think we still had to perform really well to beat the other teams," he said.
"Overall we had to play good cricket. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan are all dangerous teams," Mathews said. (Also read: Mathews happy to have broken 'barrier of finals')
"We had not won a major trophy in quite a while. So the boys were eager to go out there and perform. We're glad to break the barrier between Sri Lanka and the finals. I'm really happy. The credit goes to the whole team, the support staff and also the selectors for having faith in us. They were superb. We still remain unbeaten after six weeks in Bangladesh," he said.
"We have always been a team who never give up. We keep fighting till the last ball. We have showed that a few times. I'm glad the fighting spirit was there. It was a big game for us and the boys really wanted to win."
Mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis was left out for the big match and Mathews said it was a tough decision but Sachithra Senanayake did well. "The wicket was very good. It played well. It didn't spin that much so went with that extra seamer. The wicket did not look slow initially. So we played an extra seamer. It was a very good wicket overall," he said.
"It was a tough decision for us. He's been performing brilliantly for us. All the bowlers played their part in the last game. Even though he ended up wicketless in last games, he bowled 10 overs.
"It was a brave decision. We thought those were the changes we had to make. You need make those tough decision. We made it and it has come out good for us."
Despite their Asia cup triumph, they would have to start afresh in the World Twenty20 beginning here in less than a fortnight. "We can't say that because T20 is a funny game. It's totally a different format. It's a fresh tournament. It's a World Cup, all teams will be playing and quite eager. There will be a lot of competition. We have one week to turn up and play fresh cricket," he said.
"It can be an advantage we now know the conditions. But overall we have to start afresh. We still can improve as a team. don't want to sit back and relax."