Sri Lanka have turned to old warhorse Lasith Malinga to put fight into their Champions Trophy campaign and reverse their decline in the one-day game.
The islanders have missed Malinga — one of the world’s great fast bowlers — through injury and their performances have suffered.
Sri Lanka won a series against Zimbabwe and West Indies last year but were beaten in one-day contests on tours of England and South Africa in 2016-17 season.
So selectors have turned to Malinga and brought back fit-again all-rounder Angelo Mathews to lead the side for the 50-over tournament starting June 1.
Malinga, 33, was a surprise choice considering he has played hardly any international cricket in the past 18 months.
He has won the Indian Premier League title with the Mumbai Indians however. Malinga was the only player excused from the high altitude training camp for Sri Lanka’s England-bound players because of the IPL campaign.
“His fitness is improving and we are hoping that he will be able to deliver the full quota of 10 overs (a match) in England,” said Sri Lanka Cricket president Thilanga Sumathipala.
Sri Lanka have also made Allan Donald fast bowling coach for the tournament after bringing back Graham Ford for a second coaching stint with the team since early 2016.
Donald said he has high hopes for the pace attack of Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Nuwan Kulasekera, Thisara Perera and Malinga.
“The Sri Lankan attack has what it takes to win the tournament,” said Donald, the first South African to 300 Test wickets.
“Sri Lanka has a lot of skills. A lot of leadership with the ball … what is there to be scared of?”
Ford has played down the team’s chances in the eight-nation event however, calling them the tournament “underdogs”.
“Sometimes that is a good place to be. We’ve certainly got a chance of upsetting one of the so-called better nations. We will just be going one game at a time,” said the South African.
Those hopes hit an early rock when world’s sixth ranked one day team were beaten by minnows Scotland in a preparatory 50-over game in Kent this week.
Sri Lankan quicks, without Malinga, failed to defend a 287-run score and Scotland cantered home in 42.5 overs.
Sri Lanka made some amends by winning the second match against Scotland by nine wickets to end the two-match series on 1-1.
Sri Lanka’s best show in the Champions Trophy was when they hosted the event in 2002. They shared the title with India after the final was twice rained off.
But skipper Mathews, who last played an ODI in the home series loss to Australia in August 2016, remains upbeat.
“We will definitely improve day by day and I am sure the boys are up to the challenge,” said Mathews.
“We don’t have time for hiccups in a tournament like this.”
Sri Lanka are in Group B with India, Pakistan and South Africa. They begin the Champions Trophy against the Proteas at The Oval on June 3.