Sri Lanka have their problems to sort out before next year's World Cup, but their bowling at least looks steady. Differences between senior fast bowler Lasith Malinga and Sri Lanka Cricket meant that the veteran was going to fade away without even a farewell game. But Malinga decided to bury the hatchet and has returned to international cricket fitter and hungrier.
Sri Lanka's selectors overlooked him for the tri-nation Nidahas Trophy at home on the grounds that he had not played any domestic cricket. He fulfilled the requirements by turning up for the Inter-Provincial tournament in August and became eligible for the Asia Cup.
After being in the wilderness for more than a year, Malinga made a return to international cricket in the Asia Cup curtain-raiser in Dubai against Bangladesh where he picked up four wickets and in the second ODI against England at Dambulla was at his awesome best again picking up his eighth five wicket haul, his first in four years.
England were looking beyond 300 in Dambulla on a hot day and it was Malinga's clever change of pace that restricted them to 278. Ten wickets in his first three games since his return to international cricket should be more than good enough to secure his place in the side for next year's World Cup.
Malinga took four for 19 in his last five overs in Dambulla on Saturday.
He had dismissed Jason Roy in the first over of the innings after Sri Lanka opted to field first. It was Malinga's ability to mix things up with England looking to up the tempo that helped Sri Lanka to bounce back.
Eoin Morgan was deceived by a slower ball and Malinga completed the return catch to dismiss England's captain for 92. In the next ball, Moeen Ali was bowled by a slower yorker. Occasionally Malinga clocked 140 kmph and reverse swung the ball to deadly effect.
One of the reasons why England are ranked world's number one is that they bat deep. Chris Woakes has four ODI fifties and he bats at number eight for England, a luxury they have enjoyed when the top and middle order failed. Not this time though as Malinga deceived Woakes with another slower yorker. The batsman was trapped in front and was ruled out after Sri Lanka reviewed.
Liam Dawson was undone by another yorker as Malinga completed a five wicket haul and he pointed to the name on his t-shirt. He finished with five for 44 and Sri Lanka are glad that at the age of 35. their premier bowler is still troubling world's top ranked team.
Malinga has now taken 311 ODI wickets and he is the 12th highest wicket taker in the world. He needs 13 more wickets to be amongst the top ten wicket takers in the world in ODIs and ironically when that happens he will replace former captain Sanath Jayasuriya, who dropped him from the ODI side last September.
On a day of milestones for Sri Lanka's most experienced cricketer, Malinga also went onto complete 500 international wickets.
“It's a good milestone to have. I had a good outing during the Asia Cup and I was playing after 12 months. That was the time that I realized that I have got still something to offer. Today my variations came in handy,” Malinga told reporters after the game.
“It was a magnificent effort by the bowling unit to restrict England to 278. Not just me, but all the bowlers did a terrific job. We couldn't win today but I am sure our batters will bounce back in the remainder of the series,” Malinga added.
Sri Lanka will have to address their batting woes as the series now moves to Kandy where the third and fourth ODIs will be played.
Relying on five specialist batsmen and playing two all-rounders has backfired. The same formula has been followed from the bilateral series against South Africa and continued through the Asia Cup. Sri Lanka fared extremely poorly in both contests and now have conceded a lead in the five match series.
The hosts took a bold decision to leave out their most experienced batsman Angelo Mathews on fitness grounds. The batters need to regroup and bounce back in Kandy to avoid suffering another humiliating series defeat.
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