Lasith Malinga has one request from his team in the ODIs against New Zealand: a good start.
A good start to his captaincy, because following a 2017 in which almost everyone on the island seemed to captain Sri Lanka in ODIs, and a 2018 in which Angelo Mathews was controversially dumped from the leadership – and Dinesh Chandimal unceremoniously deposed two months later – Malinga has hopes of staying ODI captain until at least the end of the 2019 World Cup. Six-and-a-half months is not too much to ask, is it?
A good start to the series, because in the last two series, against South Africa and then England, it was only after the series had been lost that Sri Lanka’s batsmen began to produce big runs.
And a good start to the first match, because it’s in the Powerplay overs where Sri Lanka have tended to lose wickets, and by extension, the match.
“Whatever the game is we need a good start – that’s something we need to concentrate on,” Malinga said on the eve of the first ODI against New Zealand. “Our first ten overs, we have to assess conditions and build partnerships. We can then accelerate towards the end of the innings.”
Slow starts have also hurt Sri Lanka over the course of a series, with the team going down 3-0 against South Africa and 3-0 against England, before coming back to win the dead rubbers in each of those series last year. Partly, the belated uptick in performance was down to the opposition having fielded weaker XIs after they had secured the series.
“In the last couple of series we’ve performed well at the end, so I think what people have to understand is that we have to perform well when the series starts,” Malinga said. “We have another eight matches before the World Cup. These are very similar conditions to what we will face during the World Cup also. So it’s important to get together and become familiar with the conditions.”
Malinga is now charged with turning around the form of one of the most modest ODI outfits that will compete in what will probably be his final World Cup. Although he has led Sri Lanka to victory in a World T20, Malinga has only come tantalisingly close to a World Cup trophy – twice playing in the final, in 2007 and 2011. The batting greats that had driven those runners-up campaigns are gone, but so has Sri Lanka’s time for using those retirements as an excuse, Malinga said.
“Now is not the time to rebuild. More than three years have gone since the great players have retired. The next World Cup is this year. Now we have to prove who is the best in Sri Lankan cricket. All the players are keen to do that. We’ll try to start 2019 well. “