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Not perfect, but a step ahead for young Sri Lanka

Usually, anything less than a clean sweep against Bangladesh would have invited criticism, but not when Sri Lanka are trying out their next generation

Dinesh Chandimal made a fine start to his Twenty20 captaincy  •  AFP

Dinesh Chandimal made a fine start to his Twenty20 captaincy  •  AFP

As Sri Lanka's mixed tour arrived at a happy close in Pallekele, Twenty20 captain Dinesh Chandimal's words after the game suggested an encouraging future, just as Angelo Mathews' comments had done after a loss, three nights earlier. Amid a flood of praise for Kusal Perera's bat speed and brutality, Chandimal explained how he would spend the imminent two-month break from international cricket, instead of travelling to India for the IPL. "Over the next two months, I'll be doing a lot of training," he said. "I still have a few issues with my technique that need to be sorted out, so I will be working very hard with the national coaches to correct those issues, looking forward to a busy season."
It was heartening, honest, realism from a young captain, desperate to improve himself after having embarked on a season of sudden responsibility. Captaincy aside, he is now the Test side's wicketkeeper, as well as vice-captain and a key batsman in all three formats. Four months ago, he did not find a place in any of Sri Lanka's preferred XIs.
Mathews had also been candid and introspective after the loss in the third ODI. A wet ball played its role in the result, as did a shortened chase that tilted the match slightly in the visitors' favour, but Mathews refused to find fault anywhere but in Sri Lanka's own performance. It has been a difficult tour for him, with his side having achieved worse-than-anticipated results in the Tests and ODIs. But although he could have justifiably called for patience as an inexperienced captain leading a regenerating side, he apportioned blame where it was deserved and emphasised a commitment to correcting specific shortcomings.
Though as a side, Sri Lanka will be disappointed at not having whitewashed Bangladesh in all formats, as they have done in every home series before, their two young leaders have displayed an awareness of the bigger game that is afoot; that of preparing for a future without Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene or Tillakaratne Dilshan. It appears that Kusal Perera is likely to become a mainstay - particularly as he could relieve Chandimal of the gloves, if they are deemed too big a burden. Lahiru Thirimanne has also begun producing high-quality innings in earnest, despite not having a settled place in the top order. And Chandimal's own batting has already made major strides towards fortitude and consistency.
Mathews' captaincy betrayed his inexperience at times, particularly as he rifled through bowlers in the Tests, as quickly as most captains would in an ODI. But he hardly allowed the game to meander either, as Dilshan did during his unsuccessful stint at the helm. Under Chandimal's effervescent leadership, the side was electric in the field, and flourished as a collective. He will regret having given part-timer Angelo Perera an over, when plenty remained from his frontline bowlers, but there was much encouragement as well. In all three formats, Chandimal and Mathews were in constant, often animated discussion, before fields were set and bowling changes made.
In the future, it is conceivable the pair might exchange leadership between formats. Chandimal is patently unready for Test captaincy, but his talents and temperament - immature though both still are - seem better suited to the longest format, where he has been most impressive for Sri Lanka. Mathews' all-round ability, meanwhile, is a better fit for limited-overs cricket, where he rarely allows a game to pass in which he has not contributed in either discipline. Sri Lanka's selectors have felt it wise not to overload either captain with all three formats for now, but even as they develop, Chandimal and Mathews appear to have a relationship that might empower a successful split captaincy in years to come.
At any other time, as unconvincing a series as this against Bangladesh would constitute a substantial failing for Sri Lanka. A firm focus on youth during this tour has given the side a grace period, in which poor results will be easily forgiven and forgotten. But if Sri Lanka are to become a major force in cricket once more, Chandimal and Mathews must ensure the improvements they have spoken of come swiftly, and emphatically.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here