Lasith Malinga makes welcome return to ODIs for Sri Lanka
LONDON: Even though he is no longer Sri Lanka's best player, Lasith Malinga brings a much needed superstar presence.
Malinga failed to make a major impact during his first one-day international since November 2015 on Saturday, in the defeat to South Africa in the Champions Trophy, but his return was still a welcome one.
The only player to have three ODI hat tricks, and who has led Sri Lanka to two Cricket World Cup finals, has limited his appearances because of injuries and a preference for Twenty20s.
In February, Malinga returned from a yearlong absence from competitive cricket caused by a knee injury, and until Saturday he had competed only in T20s.
Therefore, his sloppy fielding and failure to take a wicket in the Group B opener were secondary to coming through bowling 10 overs in good health.
"He's getting better and better," stand-in captain Upul Tharanga said. "Even though he didn't take any wickets he bowled really well up front, and in the later overs."
Easily recognizable for his long golden locks and round-armed bowling action, "Slinger" Malinga received enthusiastic cheers from supporters every time he neared the boundary at The Oval.
Despite going wicket-less as his 10 overs went for 57 runs, Malinga maintains the ability to excite, and looked threatening as he went for just 14 runs in his first four-over spell.
"It's great to see him in the Sri Lankan side. I love watching him bowl, I've always been a fan," South Africa captain AB de Villiers said.
"He's obviously got to keep working on his game - he's not far off from his best. If he picks up one or two wickets he becomes a really dangerous player and I'm sure he'll be a factor throughout the tournament."