Malinga determined to prove his mojo
Lasith Malinga has conceded his fitness has not been optimal in the past few months, but said he relished the opportunity to regain form. He was dropped from the final ODI against Pakistan after claiming only four wickets at an average of 61.50 in the first four matches, but is now preparing to lead the T20 side in two matches.
The pace attack led by Malinga has attracted substantial criticism over the past week, including from former fast bowling coach Chaminda Vaas, who said Sri Lanka's quicks were "overweight". Malinga recently missed the Caribbean Premier League through injury, and also underwent surgery on his ankle last year, which required a recovery period of about 18 weeks in the approach to the World Cup.
According to Malinga, those injuries have contributed to his recent decline: "My injury isn't 100 percent healed. After my surgery I played the World Cup almost immediately. After having not bowled for a month and a half, I came into the team and got the most wickets for Sri Lanka. I'm happy about that. But I still wasn't able to give 100 per cent."
Chief selector Kapila Wijegunawardene has also taken a dim view of Malinga's indifferent performances. "Whether it's Lasith Malinga or whoever, they must realise that no one is able to rest on one's laurels forever," he told Ceylon Today. "You are only as good as your last game. That is the mantra any professional sportsman will stick to, and considering the below-par returns of Malinga in the first four ODIs, we made the call to drop him and give that place to Lahiru Gamage, and the end result proved it was not a bad move."
Malinga, who had long enjoyed a guaranteed place in the limited-overs XI as Sri Lanka's pace spearhead, said he looked forward to the challenge of proving his fitness for ODI selection again.
"There may be better players than me in Sri Lanka, and I'd like to give them a fight. That's how you get better. In this T20 series, there is a limit of four overs, so I think I'll be able to bowl well. Hopefully in the future I can rejoin the one-day team after I work on my fitness. If the selectors and captain feel I'm good enough, I'll look forward to playing. I don't have huge expectations. I'll play the matches as I get them."
Reports have also claimed that as T20 captain, Malinga pressed for the omission of Dinesh Chandimal from the current squad. Former selector Sanath Jayasuriya has also told a Pakistan television station that Malinga has been against Chandimal's T20 inclusion "for a long time".
Though he did not mention Chandimal in particular, Malinga suggested that both he and Lahiru Thirimanne had been omitted from the squad against Pakistan because they were known entities, and Sri Lanka sought to test domestic performers at the top level before the World T20.
"If we're talking about the 2019 World Cup, there are 60-100 matches to play before that, and you can look at any player," Malinga said. "However, we've only got six months and 10 T20 matches before the next World T20. So we have to figure out whether we have suitable players in the Sri Lankan system, within that time. We know there are two players who have played for us since 2010, who are not in this squad. We know their talents. We don't need to look at them again. What we need is for players who have done well in domestic tournaments to come into the Sri Lanka side."
As the captain Malinga is able to advise the selectors, but the selection committee ultimately chooses the team. Wijegunawardene had earlier said Chandimal and Thirimanne were simply being rested for the T20s, as they have an important part to play in the forthcoming Test series against India.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando