I don't know what pressure means - Malinga
Lasith Malinga had arrived in New Zealand with a strapped-up ankle and a bum knee. He has not bowled a delivery in competitive cricket since September. Even before the hiatus, he had been some way from his best; low on pace and wayward, with a stomach bulging out ahead of him.
All this would make for a low-key return, you would think, but Malinga has earned a reputation as Sri Lanka's major tournament performer. The gold tinge in his hair rejuvenates ahead of each big event. The yorkers begin to fly fast and free, stumps wrecked, hat-tricks collected, toes bruised, and that aeroplane celebration dusted off with unusual intensity.
On Saturday, Gary Ballance labeled Malinga "probably the best death bowler there has ever been", and the man himself is meeting the attention with his usual bluster. Saddled now with transforming the Sri Lankan attack's fortunes in New Zealand, Malinga said the expectations on him are nothing new.
"I don't know what pressure means," he said. "I'm always used to pressure situations, so I wouldn't even know what pressure is to talk about it. I want to have a free mindset and do what I can do. Throughout my career I haven't been looking out where I'm playing or what are the conditions. We know it will be bouncy here, but I always trust my skill."
Malinga's absence from international cricket had been forced by a long-term ankle complaint that had deteriorated to the point of requiring surgery. He had suffered a setback in his rehabilitation in December, but has gradually been increasing his bowling workload through January. Every step is still painful, Malinga said, but he is expected to be fully fit for the warm-up matches, against South Africa and Zimbabwe, and for the curtain-raiser against New Zealand on February 14.
"In the last few days, I've been bowling with my full run up, and I feel like I have good rhythm. I don't know about the pace, so we'll find that out in the matches. Before the World Cup, I have to use these two warm-up matches to the maximum.
"I haven't had much skills preparation in the last few months, but I always do my mental preparation. I watched all my footage in the last two months and figured out what I needed to do."
Sri Lanka's major-tournament fortunes have fluctuated with Malinga's, to some extent, but on this occasion, his team-mates are quick to suggest they have other match winners in their attack too. Kumar Sangakkara said Rangana Herath was the best current spinner, while captain Angelo Mathews believed Sri Lanka were not totally reliant on Malinga.
"You can't write off the rest of the bowlers that we have," Mathews said. "We've got fairly experienced bowlers, but Lasith is the X-factor. It's just that in a one-off game, the others can also come into the party. We all expect Lasith to do well but I'm pretty sure with the amount of talent that we've got in the side, anyone can do the job for us."
Mahela Jayawardene took a similar view, emphasising the threat of the collective, but added that Malinga's return boosted the know-how within the attack. Malinga had been the architect of the wide-yorker plan that brought Sri Lanka success in the World T20 final last year.
"The others will feed off him," Jayawardene said. "You saw in the World T20 how his ideas, and his management of the bowling unit in that situation was fantastic. Because of his experience, his presence will give us that extra 10 per cent to win the matches we had been losing. We're a small nation, so it's important we get everyone on the park."
Sri Lanka's approach to the World Cup has been marred somewhat by a 2-4 loss to New Zealand. Mathews said his team had "found ways to lose matches rather than win them" in that series, and called for more consistency in all departments, but was unperturbed by the lowered expectations of his side.
"We're happy to walk into the World Cup as underdogs. No one really expects us to win."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando