Sri Lanka need Murali and Malinga

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COLOMBO – If Sri Lanka are to have any chance of becoming the only Asian team to win two World Cups in the sub-continent, they need their two chief weapons, Lasith Malinga and Muttiah Muralitharan, to find their form — fast. The co-hosts were one of the pre-tournament favourites to win the showpiece but Saturday’s 11-run defeat by Pakistan exposed some glaring weaknesses in their bowling armoury.
Muralitharan should have been trapping rival batsmen with his mystifying powers of flight and spin but has instead been leaking runs to rank outsiders such as Canada. In the first match he was the most expensive of the Sri Lankan attack.
The off-spinner’s figures of 2-38 at the cost of 4.22 against a bunch of part-timers in Hambantota was hardly the kind of stats the world’s most prolific wicket-taker would want to shout about. He was the most economical of the Sri Lankan bowlers against Pakistan but having picked up only one wicket, his success rate would have hardly set Sri Lankan pulses racing. But at least Muralitharan is playing a part in all the action as the same cannot be said of Malinga.
The 27-year-old, who made his name in the 2007 World Cup by claiming four wickets in four balls against South Africa, has not even tested one run-up to the pitch. He was sidelined with a sore back against Canada but had been declared fit for the contest against Pakistan. However, Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara was not prepared to gamble on his fitness and chose to rest him for “the more difficult matches we have ahead” — a strategy that backfired on Saturday.
With showdowns against world champions Australia now less than a week away, the Sri Lankans know they can no longer waste time experimenting with their line-ups and plan to draft Malinga into action in their match against Kenya on Tuesday. “We will consider him for the next game because we need to get him into his rhythm ahead of the game against Australia next Saturday,” team manger Anura Tennekoon told Reuters.
“Malinga was rested as a precautionary measure. We don’t want to take any chance with him because he is our key bowler. Malinga is fit but we don’t want to take that extra one percent (risk with his fitness) and play him.” Sangakkara acknowledged the presence of Malinga could have tipped the match in their favour, as in the end they lost by a fairly narrow margin after Pakistan amassed 277-7.
“We can say that we missed Lasith a bit. He is going to be back with us very shortly,” he said. Luckily for Sri Lanka, one defeat is unlikely to dent their chances of progressing in the tournament, especially since Zimbabwe, Kenya and Canada are expected to be the teams that fall by the wayside in Group A. Its round-robin format means four teams from Group A will qualify for the knockout stages.
While the bowling has been the obvious weak link, Sangakkara was also concerned with his team’s batting even though they scored 332-7 in their first match and came very close to overhauling Pakistan’s total.