A coach not quite sacked, a raft of player withdrawals, a typically chaotic nexus between cricket administration and government: all scenarios not uncommon when it comes to the endlessly fascinating story of Sri Lankan cricket. And yet amid all these 2019 misadventures there have been remarkable, even transcendent moments: A Test series win in South Africa, a stunning World Cup match win over England at Headingley, and then an even more stupefying Twenty20 clean sweep of Pakistan in Pakistan even after the aforementioned pull out of senior players.
Now, with their resilience so vividly demonstrated, the Sri Lankans have arrived in Australia and linked back with their captain. Lasith Malinga added his own personal contribution to a year of memorable moments by not only defending a mere eight runs in the IPL final, but going on to take four wickets in four balls as against New Zealand in Kandy, the second such achievement of his dizzying international career.
Malinga’s experience, drawn from well over a decade in the game, will be a more than useful addition to the group, alongside the strong credentials of Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera and Niroshan Dickwella, to name three. “It’s a good opportunity for me to share my knowledge and experience with the young players,” Malinga said.
“I can’t play much more cricket, the next few months and maybe in the World Cup. I want to give my best for the young players because they don’t have much experience like me, playing franchise cricket, IPL, Big Bash, everything else. Sri Lanka also are regenerating our cricket team, the young players need experience, they need guidance so that’s why it is important to play this tournament.
Recalling his successful shut out of Chennai Super Kings for Mumbai Indians in the IPL final, Malinga said a sequence of five balls slung down at better than 140kph, followed by a closing slower ball to nail an lbw and seal a one-run win, was a good example of the sorts of stratagems he can either deliver himself or advise his team about.
“Any bowler who has played 10-15 years they have experience,” he said. “According to that we can use our variation and tactical part, that’s more important than the power. These days I try to use my tactical and variations according to the game situation. In pressure situations we have to get the correct decision and decide what we want to do. That’s the thing with gaining experience over my career.”
Asked about Steve Smith and David Warner, returning to international cricket on home soil for the first time since their Newlands bans, Malinga suggested contrasting approaches – patience against Smith, but a more aggressive search for Warner’s wicket. “No particular plan but we know how good he is. I’ve played with him in the IPL and against him,” Malinga said of Smith. “We want to stick with our basics, not think much about the opposition, stick to our basic cricket and that’s very important I feel in the T20 game.
“In the IPL, [Warner] was the highest run-getter in thus tournament. We know how good the T20 format is for him and we know in the last couple of months he didn’t get much runs, but still we know he can damage the opposition in any situation. That’s why we are looking forward to him – if we can bowl one good ball for him, that’s the challenge for all our bowlers to get him.”
Having been on the losing end of a Sri Lankan steal of a T20I against Australia at Geelong in 2017, Australia’s captain Aaron Finch was wary. “They’ve got some seriously dangerous players. I think when you look at Kusal Perera, Dickwella, these guys, they hit all around the ground and they’re aggressive, they take the game on, so you have to be at your best,” he said. “When you set out you have your really clear plans, but that can change so quick.
“Because they’re so inventive, they move around the crease a lot, you have to really think on your feet as a bowler and as a captain. That’s going to be really important in this series to hopefully get some wickets in the Power Play and try to put some pressure on the middle order that probably isn’t as experienced as their top couple. they’re a very dangerous side and they’ve shown they can beat anyone in any conditions when they get it right.
“They’re a world class side, and led by Malinga as well, who’s played so much T20 cricket. He’s really structured in the way he wants his bowlers to bowl and brings all his experience and all his guidance to their young tearaway quick attack as well. So it’s going to be an exciting series. Their spinners posed problems to us in the past, particularly in the subcontinent, so hopefully we can start the series off really well.”