Sri Lanka in Australia 2012-13 January 9, 2013

One-day specialists boost Sri Lanka

One of Sri Lanka's biggest frustrations during the Test series was their inability to call up Lasith Malinga to spearhead the attack, despite him already being in Australia, and in wicket-taking form. The possibility of a Malinga Test comeback was floated repeatedly, but team management maintained he was not fit enough for five-day cricket, though at times, they were hopeful he might eventually return in whites. 

They will no longer be without their most penetrative bowler though, with Malinga having joined the Sri Lanka squad on Tuesday, after completing his stint with the Melbourne Stars. He has been the standout bowler of the Big Bash League in the last month, taking a tournament-high 13 wickets, while his average of 10.69 and his economy rate of 4.96 are both the best in the league for any bowler with more than five scalps.

Allrounder Jeevan Mendis said Malinga's arrival in the team had already boosted the side, and that he and the other limited-overs specialists will likely inject energy into Sri Lanka's Australian campaign. In addition to Malinga's BBL exploits, he was also 2012's highest wicket-taker in ODIs. 

"Any team would like to have Malinga," Mendis said. "Having him in the one day team is a great opportunity for us to do well, and it also gives us confidence. With Malinga coming in and some other guys from Sri Lanka like Akila Dananjaya, and Upul Tharanga, we have a better chance of doing well in ODIs than we did in the Tests."

Though Dananjaya, Tharanga and Ajantha Mendis just arrived in Australia, both Jeevan Mendis and Thisara Perera have been playing in the BBL, while Nuwan Kulasekara, who has been in Australia with the Test team, is expected to recover from a cracked rib in time for the first ODI. If Kulasekara plays, he will complete a much more formidable attack than the bowling unit that struggled in the Tests, with four bowlers in the squad who have already had a taste of the conditions. 

"I have been playing for the Sydney Sixers, with whom I have a contract for four games, and that helped me get used to playing here," Mendis said. "To come to Australia and play is a difficult task. It's one of the best teams in the world, but if we take a look at the last few years, Sri Lanka have been doing well in ODIs and Twenty20s."

Encouragingly for Sri Lanka, they have won more matches than they have lost against the hosts in their last two limited-overs series in Australia. Sri Lanka were beaten in the finals of last year's tri-series, but defeated Australia in four matches from seven in that tournament, while in 2010, Sri Lanka won a three-match bilateral series. 

Mendis said Sri Lanka's versatile ODI squad, which can contain up to three allrounders in Mendis, Perera and Angelo Mathews, would give the visitors the edge in the upcoming series as well. "It was a great series to beat Australia here in 2010. It gives us confidence going into the ODIs. With the number of players we have that can both bat and bowl, we can do something good. We are good enough to win again. We need to forget about the Tests and focus on the ODIs and Twenty20s."

This will be Sri Lanka's second ODI series under the new rules, which do not allow more than four fielders outside the 30-yard circle at any time in the game. The visitors prospered in their first dalliance with the new laws, winning a rain-affected series against New Zealand 3-0, and Mendis said Sri Lanka had since stopped thinking about the new rule as a limitation. 

"We are not used to it, but in one way it's good for a spinner, because it allows us to bring the field in and gives a little more opportunity to get wickets. We're thinking about the positive side about what we can do with the new rule. The first time it was difficult to bowl with the five fielders in, but as time went on, we thought it was a good opportunity for the bowlers to get some wickets. With the new rule, you have to be perfect as a spinner and you have to be smart about the field."

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