Two weeks ago, Angelo Mathews may have thought that Saturday's Twenty20 international at the Sydney Cricket Ground would effectively be his first match as Sri Lanka's captain in all formats. He might have dreamed of building his team in the coming years and made mental notes about how each young talent should be fostered. Perhaps he even looked forward to the Bangladesh tour in March as an opportunity to find his feet at the helm and begin shaping a side consistent with his ideals, attitude and identity. He will likely have to wait. The top brass at home have all but confirmed Mathews will not be entrusted with the Test captaincy.
So embroiled is Sri Lanka's politics in its cricket that before the selection panel who will choose the new captain has even been appointed, the sports minister has already declared that Sri Lanka will have a separate captain for Tests. As the minister appoints the selectors and authorises each team they name, there is little cause to doubt him on that. There is a chance too, that Sanath Jayasuriya, who is also part of Sri Lanka's government, will be a selector, and perhaps their chairman.
Through all this the minister has also voiced his discontent with players who "hug all three formats of the game" and called for three distinct teams for each format. Mahela Jayawardene's souring relationship with SLC was played out in the papers in last month's leaked letter saga, and his Test place now seems less secure than his form and record warrants. He had quit the captaincy with the intention of mentoring his long-term replacement but neither the man he expected to take the reins nor Jayawardene himself may be positioned in the way he had imagined in the months to come.
It is amid all this uncertainty that Mathews must now pursue his first victory as captain. The two Twenty20s are almost a post-script at the end of a long tour but there is still plenty on the line for Sri Lanka, not just in terms of results but also in how Mathews comes off as a leader.
A 2-0 victory would give Sri Lanka some consolation after a difficult tour. They were woeful in the Tests and failed to close out the one-day series and will be desperate to leave Australia with at least one trophy of their own. The bowlers in particular have played some excellent cricket in the past two weeks, and they will feel a shared ODI series was not a just reward for their efforts. Sri Lanka will be playing to keep the No. 1 ranking they earned at the World Twenty20 as well, and need at least a drawn series to hold on to it.
For Mathews, the Twenty20s are about showcasing his capacity for leadership. His nerveless navigation of difficult ODI chases has made his stoicism plain but there is still immaturity about his game and, increasingly, the air of unfulfilled promise. It is perhaps why, two years after he was initially considered for the captaincy, there is still widespread hesitance about the prospect of him taking the reins. There is no doubt that he has the unequivocal support of the side's seniors and the respect of the younger group as well, but his own game has not progressed rapidly enough to announce his readiness for the added burden. Each time he walks to the crease in Tests, he also drags an ever-worsening conversion rate behind him.
Tactically, he is also something of a mystery. Rarely in his 20 months as vice-captain has he been seen weighing in on on-field decisions, and although he led his Sri Lanka Premier League squad to the final of that competition, he was blessed with one of the best attacks in the tournament who struck form early in their campaign. He does, however, deserve credit for coaxing good cricket out of them.
A 2-0 victory in the Twenty20s is unlikely to be enough to change the minds of the men who call the shots in Sri Lanka's cricket, but for Mathews it would be a decent start as he builds a case for the Test captaincy. He won Sri Lankan hearts as a youngster with a single innings at the MCG in 2010, but if he is to earn respect as a leader, it must come through consistency over time, with positive results for the team, as well as with the bat.