Bruised Lanka look to Malinga now

31-08-2017
DH

It was a potential perform-or-perish situation for the paceman. Since then, Malinga has claimed just one wicket in two matches after going wicketless in the first tie in Dambulla but Sri Lankan cricket has plumbed such depths that the veteran bowler will now be leading the team in the fourth ODI against India here at the Premadasa Stadium on Thursday.

The 34-year-old thus becomes third man to assume captaincy in four matches following a two-match suspension to regular skipper Upul Tharanga (first two matches) and the injured stand-in captain Chamara Kapugedera (third game). Tharanga will be handed the reins of the team for the final match here on September 3.

Kapugedera, whose elevation to the top came as a big surprise to the Lankans here, will miss the rest of the series after aggravating his back injury during the third ODI. It remains to be seen who will replace the batsman after Lanka included Dhananjaya de Silva and Dilshan Munaweera in the squad as back-ups.

Just one wicket away from claiming his 300th ODI scalp, Malinga has an unenviable task of ending Lanka’s prolonged horror-run. The series may be inconsequential so far as India are concerned, but the last two matches hold much more importance to Lanka whose direct qualification for the 2019 World Cup is on the line. They need to win both of them to avoid the potential ignominy of going through qualifiers.

Off-spinner Akila Dananjaya has been the brightest in a group brimming with under-performers. The recalled Lahiru Thirimanne injected some life into batting with a determined 80 and Lanka will hope the left-hander carries his form forward. It’s also time Angelo Mathews, the former captain, took some responsibility. Just one fifty in the last 10 innings is a poor return for a batsman of his calibre and talent. As the most experienced batsman in the side, he need not look beyond MS Dhoni in the art of taking charge of situations when the going isn’t good.

Dhoni, for whom it will be his 300th ODI appearance, bailed India out in the last two matches, helping the visitors wrap up the series 3-0. The unassailable lead presents the team a golden opportunity to test its bench strength and for the first time in the series Virat Kohli may ring-in some changes.

Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav looks almost certain to start while it will be interesting to see if Manish Pandey gets a look in. Kedar Jadhav has appeared out of sorts with the bat in the last two matches and less said the better about his fielding. That he is capable of giving a breakthrough or two -- he has three wickets in three matches -- has definitely helped his cause.

Another Karnataka batsman K L Rahul will get an extended run to establish himself at No 4. Having fallen cheaply in the last two matches, the right-hander will be eager to prove himself but his own expectations should not assume desperate levels. With the team management firmly backing his case, all he needs to do is stay relaxed and spend some quality time in the middle before he can take risks. Ajinkya Rahane may also get a chance if Shikhar Dhawan, who has spent the most time in the middle on this trip, is given a break.

The pacers – Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah – won’t like the idea of sitting out after just three matches. Bumrah is returning from a rest following the Champions Trophy while Bhuvneshwar didn’t play any of the three Tests. However, pacer Shardul Thakur addressing the media on the eve of the match gives rise to his debut hopes.

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