Malinga Test return possible feels Sri Lanka bowling coach
Champaka Ramanayake, Sri Lanka's fast-bowling coach, has said he believes Lasith Malinga might return to Test cricket if he feels his fitness is back at optimum levels. Malinga quit Tests in 2011 due to a long-standing knee problem, deciding to focus only on the limited-overs formats. If Malinga returns to Tests, Ramanayake said, he, like the rest of the seamers, would have to be managed very carefully.
Ramanayake, a fast bowler from the Galle district who played 18 Tests and 62 ODIs for Sri Lanka, is credited for discovering Malinga, who hails from the same region.
"Because of his [Malinga's] knee problem, he realised that he could be out in all forms of the game [so he had to quit one]. But I have the feeling he might come back to Test cricket if he feels he is fit and strong," Ramanayake told ESPNcricinfo in Colombo. "He is working hard on his fitness. I will be happy to play him for one Test in every series, because I am confident he can win that game for his team.
"He has the hunger, I know he loves Test cricket. Recently I asked him to join us at the dressing room; he loves to pass on advice to the fast bowlers."
Sri Lanka's fast bowlers have recently suffered several injuries. Chanaka Welegedera, their main seamer in Tests, was ruled out of the three Tests against Pakistan due to a torn shoulder muscle. Suranga Lakmal has a serious ankle injury that could rule him out for at least six months, and Shaminda Eranga has a nerve problem in his back. Ramanayake said these injuries are mainly due to a lack of bowling long spells in domestic cricket.
"Bowling fitness is very important. We found that one of the reasons why bowlers keep breaking down is that they don't bowl enough at practice or at the domestic level, especially the youngsters," Ramanayake said. "You get these injuries if your body has not adapted to bowling long enough."
Nuwan Kulasekara, he said, is someone who is capable of lasting through a long spell because he doesn't strain himself too much when he delivers. "Some [bowlers] have sound technique. Kula [Kulasekara] for instance is smooth and wristy, and doesn't use much of his body when he bowls. He doesn't have to exert much effort.
"On a flat pitch, you have to bowl 30-odd overs in an innings and your body is not used to it. We are now making sure they bowl more in domestic cricket, but they also have to be managed carefully. You may spend a lot of time at the gym, but still injuries occur."
Despite his success as a one-day bowler, Kulasekara has played only 13 Tests over seven years. Kumar Sangakkara said recently that Kulasekara had it in him to be a Test spearhead, and Ramanayake agrees.
"He always had an immaculate line and length. He used to bowl only inswingers, but now he gets it to move away and gives opportunities to the slip fielders," Ramanayake said. "He's a rhythmic bowler and a smart cricketer. He has proven everyone wrong [regarding the] need for raw pace to play Test cricket. His fitness was never an issue. I have always rated him very highly but not everyone did."
Nuwan Pradeep, who has emerged as one of the fastest bowlers in the country, also has a history of breakdowns in his short career. Ramanayake cited him as an example of someone with natural talent, but lacking in bowling fitness.
"We discovered him when he was playing softball cricket. He hadn't bowled much with a cricket ball. He always had the natural talent, but he didn't bowl enough when he was younger. We need to be patient with someone like him. He is actually one of the fittest guys in the team, but he needs bowling fitness. This is why domestic cricket is very important for player development."
A few months ago, Sri Lanka Cricket had advised the clubs in the first-class competition to prepare more seaming pitches. Ramanayake felt that merely preparing helpful tracks may not help their bowling fitness, when confronted with flat tracks in international cricket.
"If you give them seaming tracks, they may not get to bowl much, if the batsmen are bowled out quickly," he said. "I would say 50-50 pitches would be ideal. Most the tracks in international cricket are flat and they need to learn how to bowl on those. They will also have to learn to bowl on turning pitches, using reverse swing and the cutter."
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo