Lasith Malinga’s emphatic return to cricket on Wednesday evening did not go unnoticed by the Australian T20 squad, with batsman Michael Klinger saying the hosts will have to work out a way to counter the Sri Lanka superstar.
After almost a year out of cricket due to illness and injury, it look Malinga just four balls to find his range in Wednesday’s warm-up match against the Prime Minister’s XI in Canberra, uprooting D’Arcy Short’s middle stump in the very first over with a searing inswinging yorker.
It delivered a timely reminder for Klinger and his teammates about Malinga’s potency ahead of Friday night’s opening KFC T20I clash at the MCG.
“I’ve seen him do that a lot before so it was probably not surprising,” Klinger said of Malinga’s wicket-taking delivery in Melbourne on Thursday.
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“He’s been out with injury for a while now and it is great to see one of the greats of the game back.
“We’ll obviously have to counter his bowling and we’ll be doing our best to do that.”
Klinger will have one not-so-fond memory of Malinga, having been bowled by the Sri Lankan for 14 when the pair met during a KFC Big Bash match in 2012.
Malinga, 33, withdrew from last year's T20 World Cup and IPL with knee soreness and was set to make a comeback in the recent limited-overs series against South Africa until a bout of dengue fever put the brakes on his return.
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He took 1-26 from his four overs on Wednesday night, prompting PM’s XI skipper Adam Voges to declare: “He’s still got it”.
“He bowled really nicely at the end there,” said Voges, who scored 54no in his final international appearance.
“I was trying to mix up where I was standing in the crease to try and get him off his line.
“But he hit his yorker well, he swung the ball early and he took wickets.
“He’s going to be the key for Sri Lanka in this series.
“If he can take early wickets and bowl the way he did tonight at the death, the Aussies guys are going to find it tough.
“But if they find a way nullify him and score off him, it could go a long way towards deciding the series.”
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One man particularly thrilled by Malinga’s return is his skipper, Upul Tharanga, with the paceman’s return strengthening a side that claimed a 2-1 T20 series win over South Africa last month.
“It’s good to have him back, I feel like he is bowling really well,” Tharanga said.
“He’s not long back in cricket but he came out first ball and bowled really well.
“He’s been our main bowler of the last seven or eight years and it’s good to have him back in the team, he really strengthens our bowling side."
Tharanga said the loss of regular captain Angelo Mathews would leave a big hole in his side, but he backed his talented young players including Niroshan Dickwella and Kusal Mendis to step up.
“(They) played really well in South Africa and this is their first time in Australia, but they are young, exciting talents," he added.
“(Mathews) has been the best player in the team over the last few years so he’s a big loss for us, but still without him we have lots of new players and some experienced players too.
“This is a big opportunity for them to come and deliver what they are capable of.”
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With the tourists largely unfamiliar to Klinger – and seven of his Australian teammates who were not part of the T20 side which defeated Sri Lanka 2-0 last September – the 36-year-old has been doing plenty of research ahead of the three-match series, which will also take in matches in Geelong and Adelaide.
“I watch a bit of footage to try and look at the opposition players as much as I can leading into games,” Klinger said.
“Our analyst also gives us a lot of footage, even of the guys who didn’t play (in Canberra) in case they do play against us.
“I like to do my research as thoroughly as possible to be prepared and ready to go tomorrow.”