Lasith Malinga was being ruled out from all forms of cricket for a year and when he made a comeback in Australia in February, he played a pivotal role as Sri Lanka won the Twenty20 International series. Still he wasn't fit to bowl ten overs and his long wait to make a comeback into the ODI squad finally ended during the Champions Trophy in England in June.
Malinga had missed ODI cricket for 19 long months and since his comeback, he has hardly looked the menacing bowler he used to be. Mostly his pace has dropped and after the Champions Trophy he got into an altercation with the Sports Minister, who had questioned the players' fitness, as Sri Lanka crashed out of the eight-nation tournament with a humiliating first round defeat to eventual champions Pakistan.
His comeback hasn't gone too well and the numbers are startling. In nine games Malinga has managed just seven wickets at an average of 61. He began the home series against Zimbabwe needing five wickets to become only the fourth Sri Lankan to take 300 ODI wickets. The first two ODIs were to be played in Galle, Malinga's home town and there were rumours that once Malinga completes the milestone he will announce his retirement from international cricket. But his form was poor as he managed only three wickets in the five games.
In the first ODI against India, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli played him effortlessly as he conceded 52 runs in eight overs without taking a wicket. At the post-match media briefing, Dhawan, who smashed 130 off 90 deliveries, admitted that Malinga wasn't the bowler he used to be. "He is a bit old now and with time I feel that his pace has gone down a bit. That's why we can attack more as batsmen and that's what we look to do. This is natural because he has played so much cricket. Life is a cycle," Dhawan said.
Kohli, who hit a neat 82 off 70 deliveries, echoed the same sentiments. "Obviously, age is always a factor in sport. When you look at his bowling action and the kind of success he has had for such a long period of time is actually remarkable. With the dynamics of his bowling, it's not very natural. What he has been able to achieve for Sri Lanka has been outstanding. That's why they have been such a dangerous side over the last few years in limited overs format," Kohli said.
"I can't talk about his body, only he would know. But as long as we play him we obviously respect his skills and what he can bring to the table and how he can turn the game around," Kohli added.
Sri Lanka's coach Nic Pothas, meanwhile, gave a different twist to the saga when he revealed that fielding had let down both the team and Malinga. "Stats may show that he hasn't performed like the Lasith of three years ago but what he does add in value is immeasurable. If you take the dropped catches, we have put down nine catches off him since the Champions Trophy," Pothas said.
Malinga will turn 34 the day after the second ODI. He needs two more wickets to get to 300 scalps and it's hard to see him carrying on for too long once he reaches the milestone.