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Malinga charts course to Champions Trophy

Sri Lanka head coach Graham Ford is hopeful of Lasith Malinga's presence in the Champions Trophy later this year Associated Press

Injury robbed Lasith Malinga of the chance to contribute to Sri Lanka's World Twenty20 last year. A promising display on his return to the side for the first time in a year at the MCG marks the start of his effort to be a force at the Champions Trophy in England later this year.

At the age of 33, Malinga is far nearer the end of his career than the beginning, and the knee problem that cruelled his World T20 campaign last year was doubly frustrating as a result. Sri Lanka's coach Graham Ford outlined his value to the side not only as one of the world's most destructive and intelligent limited-overs bowlers, but also as a leader in terms of keeping the rest of the attack focused on the principle aim in the latter overs of a T20 - keep the runs down.

"I think the damage control was really good - it's something they talk about a lot. Malinga is brilliant at leading that discussion as to just how important it is," Ford said. "I think at the end he was not necessarily searching for wickets, he was searching to control the run-rate. We weren't going to bowl them out but taking the wickets certainly slowed things down there.

"[Malinga] is a very proud man. He has done a lot of great things for the country in terms of cricket. He has had unfortunately a long lay-off. When you miss the game for that long, you get hungry and you want to get out there and play and do the things you used to do.

"That is exactly where he is at now. He is playing the 20-over format with a view to building up and hopefully being able to play in the Champions Trophy later in the year. We just hope everything goes well in terms of his body. He just makes such a difference at controlling the end overs."

Having bested South Africa away from home before arriving in Australia, Sri Lanka are building some decent momentum and confidence as a limited-overs combination, even if Upul Tharanga is their third T20 captain this year. Ford said that the growth of confidence and therefore performance had been noticeable with each successive match - underlined by Chamara Kapugedara's nonchalant last-ball boundary to seal the MCG match.

"We gave them a few in the field and that made the target a bit steeper than we'd hoped, but it was an excellent chase and the guys held their nerve nicely at the end," Ford said. "Although we're not a young team, it's a fairly inexperienced one, so each time we get over the line I think it does a hell of a lot for their confidence and belief.

"Some of our guys batted exceptionally well and played some unbelievable shots. That's T20 cricket and you take your chances. But they're worked hard on those options and they worked out."