Malinga on Pathirana: 'I somehow want to make this guy even better than me'
Former Sri Lanka bowler also disagrees with Dhoni's suggestion that Pathirana "shouldn't even get close" to red-ball cricket
I found out about Matheesha Pathirana after the Under-19 World Cup [in 2020], when I got a call from Mahela Jayawardene, who was working as a consultant with SLC (Sri Lanka Cricket). He said: 'Mali, there's a boy from Kandy, who bowls just like you, and he bowls fast. But it's hard to play him in a match because he bowls two sides of the wicket and doesn't have the control. Can you do something with him?'
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In terms of skill, I told him he needs to learn how to bowl with the new and old ball, not just one. With this kind of action, you need the same skillset for Tests, ODIs, and T20s. It's just that the way you use different skills varies for each format. He doesn't really swing the ball, because his wrist is too straight as the arm comes around. I told him he has to raise that wrist about an inch-and-a-half. That'll take him about two or three years, because he has bowled the way he's bowling for 19 years.
He's bowling well in the IPL, but he needs to improve a bit to be ready for international cricket. You don't get to play 12 players in internationals, like you can in the IPL this year. They use him as a death bowler only at CSK. But if you play for the national team you're definitely going to have to bowl some powerplay overs. That's where he needs the swing, which he doesn't have right now.
He got a great opportunity because of the Impact Player rule. He can start bowling in the 12th or 13th over. So the weakness he has - bowling with the new ball - gets minimised. He's also bowling when batters really have to take him on. When you bowl with this action, batters have trouble picking up the ball. And with the control he has for now, and because he's mentally strong, he's been able to do well. He's also got a good captain who will set good fields for him.
Actually, he's got an advantage over me there, because his arm comes even lower than mine. It's really tough to hit a six off him, especially off the front foot. That's his natural advantage. Especially in the subcontinent - and when there's low bounce in the track - he'll be really effective.
MS has figured out that he can't bowl with the new ball yet. He also uses him against local Indian batters at the crease - players who don't play international cricket. With the 145kph pace, and his action, it's hard for them to play him. That's just MS' 20 years of experience at work. He also gets him to lower his pace against batters who are purely power players. Against batters who use the pace - like a Rohit Sharma, or a Mahela Jayawardene, or a Virat Kohli - those players Matheesha might struggle against for now.
MS Dhoni is saying he should just play ICC tournaments. I wonder if he's just saying that for fun (laughs). It's hard to do that when you're playing for the national team.
You can get bone injuries, but that is down to the effort you put in every ball. But I would tell him: get your Test cap. Maybe you'll play just one. Maybe you'll play 10. Maybe you will play 100 - who knows? When he plays 15-20 Tests, he will develop not just his bowling fitness and his skill, but also figure out how to set batters up for dismissals, and how to put a spell together. That's not something you can just tell him about. He has to do it to understand it properly. If when he starts playing Tests, his body starts reacting badly, then you can reassess.
I somehow want to make this guy even better than me. I think in the next Test tour, try to get him involved, and give him some ODIs as well. See how he plays in the next three years, and then see what the future course needs to be. If he plays 10 or 15 Tests in the next three years, that will be invaluable to his development.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf