Jayawardene to step down as captain after tour
Mahela Jayawardene has confirmed he will step down from the captaincy at the end of Sri Lanka's tour of Australia - a move he had hinted at for some months now. Jayawardene's second stint at the helm began in January, when he was called in to replace Tillakaratne Dilshan. The fifth ODI on January 23 in Hobart will be his final match as captain.
Vice-captain Angelo Mathews is the most likely successor, and Jayawardene said his decision to step down was largely borne from a desire to assist Mathews with leadership in Mathews' first phase as captain. Jayawardene will continue to be available for selection in all forms of cricket.
"I took over the captaincy for 12 months and that ends after this series, so I don't want to continue to captain Sri Lanka after this tour. This will be my last," Jayawardene said on the eve of the first Test. "I was going to wait until the end of the series but I thought I might as well do it now, having had a chat to the selectors."
Jayawardene had resigned from the captaincy in 2009 after four years in the job, and was reinstalled by the selectors after Dilshan's leadership had proven unsuccessful. The team had had a poor stretch of results since the 2011 World Cup, amid financial distress for the board and administrative tumult in Sri Lanka Cricket's first election in seven years.
Jayawardene's leadership appeared to restore Sri Lanka's on-field fortunes almost immediately, when they performed creditably in the ODI tri-series in Australia in February. Since then he has also led the side to a home win against then No.1-ranked Test side England, making a critical 180 to set up victory in March, before earning Sri Lanka their first Test series win in three years, in July. Sri Lanka then advanced to the final of the World Twenty20 under his watch, matching the runners-up medals they had also earnt in the 2007 World Cup, during Jayawardene's first stint at the helm.
"I hope I don't get any more SOS calls from them later on," he said. "This year has been brilliant. I've enjoyed and what I've achieved."
Mathews has been considered for the captaincy as far back as April 2011, when Kumar Sangakkara resigned from the job. Dilshan was considered the safer alternative then, given Mathews' youth and inexperience, but he has become a much more mature player since and has also had a successful brush with leadership in the Sri Lanka Premier League. Mathews was made vice-captain in all forms in July 2011, and has more recently been named Sri Lanka's Twenty20 captain. If he succeeds Jayawardene, he will be Sri Lanka's fourth Test captain in 24 months.
"I think Angelo is the one everyone has earmarked and I think he's good enough. If you see some of the other captains while they were young, you've got [Graeme] Smith, [Stephen] Fleming and a few others around - maybe the first few years will be tough for them, but they'll grow into the job. I think maybe if Angelo gets the opportunity, the transition will be much easier for him because he'll have Kumar, myself and Dilshan around him in tough situations. We can build him through that period and after that he'll be on his own."
Sri Lanka are light on Tests in 2013, thanks to five Tests being removed from their calendar next year, and a home series against Bangladesh will be the new captain's first assignment at the helm. The Champions Trophy looms later in the year however, as well as an ODI tri-series in the West Indies and a full away tour against Pakistan in December. "We don't have a lot of cricket next year - not many big tours," Jayawardene said. "So it will be a nice easy start for Angelo if he takes over."
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent