AT THE practice session on Wednesday morning, Lasith Malinga bowled a few deliveries with a shortened run-up in the nets before putting an ice pack on his injured knee. The Sri Lankan team management must have taken it with a pinch of salt. The flip side is that the Sri Lanka T20 captain has been recovering steadily ever since he picked up the injury following his match-winning spell against UAE in the Asia Cup last month. However, judging by the nature of his injury, it is quite safe to assume that the 33-year-old still didn’t look fit enough to play a high-intensity competitive fixture.
Past performances don’t always matter in the shortest format. But the Islanders have been going through a prolonged rough patch, which is concerning. They lost in New Zealand, suffered series defeat in India and made an early exit from the Asia Cup – all in the lead-up to the World T20. And all along, Malinga’s absence has been felt. Afghanistan tomorrow shouldn’t be a threat, but the defending champions need their captain in top shape the earliest.
Afghanistan are the only non-Test playing country in this ICC event, but they have shown good form on their way to Super 10s, getting past Scotland, Hong Kong and Zimbabwe with relative ease. They had a surprise fall in the Asia Cup qualifiers, where UAE trumped them. But here in India, they seem to be making the most of their ‘boot camp’ in Greater Noida and a residential stint in Gujarat.
The minnows had run Sri Lanka close in the 50-over World Cup last year. A century from Mahela Jayawardene had bailed them out on that occasion. Since then, Mahela has hung his boots, so his friend Kumar Sangakkara. Sri Lanka are now a team in transition. Angelo Mathews should have been a natural successor, especially after a splendid 2014-15 season, but his form has dipped of late.
Sri Lanka have lost both their warm-up fixtures – against New Zealand and Pakistan – and can’t afford to make a false start. Collective batting performance has become the biggest bane. If the defending champions have to be of any relevance in this tournament, youngsters like Lahiru Thirimanne and Dinesh Chandimal will have to step up.