Malinga delivers harsh self-assessment
Lasith Malinga has blamed himself for an indifferent bowling performance in a frank assessment of his form following a 29-run loss against Pakistan in the first T20I in Colombo. He has at times been perceived as an incurable egotist, but just as he did following the World T20 final in 2012, he has taken substantial personal responsibility for this loss. He even suggested his own place in the team may be at risk, though he remains Sri Lanka's T20 captain.
Malinga conceded 46 runs and claimed one wicket off the last ball of his four-over quota. In an attack featuring two debutants, Malinga collected the worst figures for his team.
"I didn't bowl very well. If I'm an experienced bowler in T20s, I didn't do much for the team," he said. "The others are all young bowlers and they're all learning. I have to do better than that if we want to win the match."
He has lost pace, partly as a result of injury over the past year, but his accuracy has also seemingly deserted him in recent months. He was dropped for the fifth ODI of the recent series after averaging more than 60 for his wickets.
"I am not really consistent," he said. "If I can consistently bowl the lengths that I want to bowl, I can manage my four overs. But at the moment I'm struggling with that."
Malinga's last three overs cost 37 runs as Umar Akmal and Shoaib Malik attacked towards the back end of Pakistan's innings. His expert death bowling had been vital to Sri Lanka's World T20 title win against India 16 months ago, but he has recently failed to consistently land his once-feared yorkers.
"In any T20s the batsmen go quickly in the last five overs. The two overs I bowled in the last five weren't great. So that was a big reason for giving 175 runs."
This performance comes in the wake of significant criticism of Malinga's fitness and form in the past weeks. His fitness has been brought repeatedly into question, and even Sri Lanka's chief selector Kapila Wijegunawardene has warned that he cannot "rest on his laurels". A fit-and-firing Malinga appears Sri Lanka's best chance of defending their World T20 title next year, but the man himself seems aware he is not immune to being dropped.
"There could be a better bowler than me," Malinga said. "I've handed that over to the selectors. They can remove me from the team at any time. No matter who you are, you can't guarantee how long you'll be able to play for Sri Lanka."
Despite an admission of his own shortcomings, Malinga felt a target of 176 was within reach given the surface. He said Sri Lanka's chase was effectively derailed when Kusal Perera, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kithuruwan Vithanage all fell inside the first four overs, but took heart from innings played lower down the order.
Chamara Kapugedera, playing his first match for Sri Lanka in three years, hit an unbeaten 31 off 16, while T20 debutant Milinda Siriwardana struck 35 from 18 to raise slim hopes of a Sri Lanka triumph. The task ultimately proved beyond them, with the top order having lost too much ground.
"Kapu and newcomer Siriwardana batted very well I thought. That's a real positive for us. The main reason for brining Kapu into the side was to get him to bat the last 8 to 10 balls and play some big shots. He showed today that he can do that. And from what I can see, Siriwardana is a player who can turn matches. We have to let him play freely."
Malinga also praised debutant legspinner Jeffrey Vandersay, who returned Sri Lanka's most economical figures of none for 25 from four overs. "I'm really happy for the newcomers. Them doing well means there is a future for Sri Lanka," Malinga said.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando