Malinga in SL squad for Champions Trophy
Lasith Malinga, who last played an ODI in November 2015, has been named in Sri Lanka's 15-man squad for the Champions Trophy in June. Long-standing injuries had put his availability in doubt, but Sri Lanka's selectors have been satisfied he can be fit enough to deliver 10 overs and field for 50 by the time the tournament starts on June 1.
Also in the squad are batsman Chamara Kapugedera, who has not played ODIs since January 2016, and fast bowler Nuwan Pradeep, who has been only a sporadic presence in Sri Lanka's ODI squads over the past year. Omitted, however, are batsman Danushka Gunathilaka, allrounders Dhananjaya de Silva and Milinda Siriwardana, and quicks Lahiru Kumara and Dushmantha Chameera.
The team will be led by Angelo Mathews, who returns after a hamstring injury kept him out of ODI series against South Africa and Bangladesh.
Malinga made his return to T20 internationals in February, following a 12-month layoff from all competitive cricket due to a knee injury. Though his form has been somewhat indifferent in the IPL, he has been largely impressive in his international matches this year, even picking up a first T20I hat-trick in his most recent game, against Bangladesh.
"Malinga has got his medical clearance to bowl 10 overs, since about two weeks ago," SLC president Thilanga Sumathipala said. "We need to build him up to bowl 10 overs now. He's playing in the IPL, which is to our advantage, because he's in a top-class cricketing environment and he's practising. Right now we are getting reports that he's going into eight overs in a spell. We have to make sure he's fit to bowl 10 by about the 10th of May."
This is the third successive ICC tournament in which Sri Lanka are sweating over Malinga's fitness, however. He had missed last year's World T20, from which he withdrew in the week before Sri Lanka departed for the tournament. He had also been injured in the approach to the 2015 World Cup.
"Match fitness is what he's lacking now - his physical fitness is superb," Sumathipala said of Malinga. "We are looking for Malinga to be fit to play the practice games before the tournament - it's very important for him to play those games."
Elsewhere on the seam-bowling front, Mathews himself is expected to be fit to bowl at the Champions Trophy - he has begun bowling in the IPL. Nuwan Kulasekara, Suranga Lakmal, Thisara Perera and Pradeep are the other seam options in the squad. Peculiarly, Sri Lanka have not picked a specialist finger spinner - legbreak bowler Seekkuge Prasanna, and left-arm wrist spinner Lakshan Sandakan have been chosen instead.
Upul Tharanga - who led the team in Mathews' absence - is one of three potential openers in the squad, with Niroshan Dickwella and Kusal Perera there as well. Kapugedera's inclusion is likely thanks to good performances in the ongoing provincial one-day tournament, in which he has scored two hundreds in four innings.
Among the standby players for the tournament are Gunathilaka and offspinner Dilruwan Perera - both of whom will be traveling with the squad - and Siriwardana, Kumara and seam bowler Vikum Sanjaya, who SLC said would be undergoing "continuous training" in Colombo.
The Sri Lanka squad - including Malinga - is expected to assemble in Sri Lanka on around the 10th of May, before they leave to Kandy for a six-day training camp. Sumathipala said the board chose the Pallekele Stadium for the camp, in order to better replicate conditions Sri Lanka may face in England. The team leaves the island on May 18, and has two ODIs against Scotland scheduled before they are due to play further practice matches - against Australia and New Zealand.
On-tour standbys: Dilruwan Perera, Dhanushka Gunathilaka; Standbys on training in Colombo: Vikum Sanjaya, Lahiru Kumara, Sachith Pathirana, Milinda Siriwardana, Akila Dananjaya