Just when the league stage of ICC World Cup 2019 appeared to be heading towards a drab end, Sri Lanka came roaring back into the contest as they beat tournament hosts and one of the favourites to win the title, England, in a low-scoring thriller at Headingley.
Sri Lanka, who had racked up a below par 232, used the sluggishness in the surface to fight England in the run-chase and ultimately succeeded in restricting them 20 runs short of their total. Lasith Malinga led Sri Lanka's bowling efforts as the veteran pacer reduced England to 26/2 inside the first seven overs.
While they managed to resurrect the innings through Eoin Morgan and Joe Root, Malinga returned to dismiss Root and Buttler in quick succession to bring Sri Lanka back into the match. He ended with figures of 4/43 in the match and showed why he is regarded as a match-winner even at the fag end of his career.
Malinga also became the fourth bowler and only the second Sri Lankan in the history of ODI cricket to claim 50 or more wickets in World Cup encounters. Glenn McGrath, Muttiah Muralitharan and Wasim Akram are the other three bowlers to achieve this feat.
Moreover, Malinga also became the quickest to take 50 World Cup wickets. He achieved the feat in 26 matches surpassing the previous best of 30 by both McGrath and Muralitharan. Akram had reached the landmark in his 34th World Cup match.
The 35-year-old also became the first Sri Lankan bowler to register a four-wicket haul against England in ODIs. In fact, he is third in the list of bowlers with most ODI wickets against England with 48 scalps in 30 matches. Only Brett Lee (65 wickets in 37 matches) and Glenn McGrath (53 wickets in 33 matches) have more.
In fact, Malinga was dropped from the Sri Lankan ODI side in 2017 due to a poor run of form during which he averaged 62.3. However, he has never looked back since his return to the side during the Asia Cup last year. The veteran pacer has 29 wickets in 18 ODIs since coming back at an average of 28.72.
Moreover, his 19 wickets in 12 ODIs is the most by any Lankan bowler in 2019.
On Friday, he was duly aided by the handy part-timer, Dhananjaya de Silva. The off-spinner, who had a wonderful Test series in South Africa earlier this year, has been in good form with the ball in ODIs too. He is Sri Lanka's third highest wicket-taker this year and the second-highest after Malinga (8 wickets) in this World Cup.
Making up for the non-performance of the main spinners in the side, de Silva has picked up five wickets in three innings. He had dismissed David Warner and Usman Khawaja in the match against Australia and added the scalps of Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid in Friday's win over England.
While the batting has been floundering for Sri Lanka leading to one-sided losses against New Zealand and Australia, the bowling has actually fared decently. They have a better average than Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and West Indies with the ball in this World Cup and are edging closer to beating Australia and India, who are less than 2 numbers away from Sri Lanka in terms of bowling average. They have also struck at a pretty decent strike rate of 36.4 this World Cup.
With the win over England, Sri Lanka's bowlers have shown that they need their batsmen to step up to put in more collective performances.
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