Lasith Malinga is likely to play at least two early-season games for Mumbai Indians in the IPL after the BCCI asked Sri Lanka Cricket to make the paceman available for as much of the tournament as possible.
ESPNcricinfo understands that Malinga is likely to be available for selection for Mumbai’s next two matches, both away games – on March 28 against Royal Challengers Bangalore and on March 30 against Kings XI Punjab. Malinga is then likely to return to Sri Lanka to feature in the Super Provincial One-Day Tournament before rejoining Mumbai after April 10.
SLC and its selectors had earlier insisted that only players who participate in the weeklong one-day competition would be eligible for selection to the World Cup squad. They had also named Malinga captain of the Galle team for that tournament.
But a call from the BCCI over the past three days has prompted SLC to climb down from their position. Not only does SLC heavily depend on India tours for broadcast income, the board is also hoping for BCCI support for the Lankan Premier League franchise tournament, which is tentatively slated for September.
Malinga is expected to travel to Sri Lanka from South Africa first, and then travel to India to join Mumbai. Once the SLC confirms the dates for the domestic ODI tournament (it is tentatively scheduled for April 4-11), Malinga will return home and then rejoin Mumbai post the Super Provincial tournament.
In any case, his World Cup place should not be under threat, chief selector Ashantha de Mel said.
“We have no issues if he goes to IPL – the board had given him a no-objection certificate already, so he’s free to go,” said de Mel. “Anyway he has been one of our best bowlers in one dayers, so there’s no question about his place in the team.”
It was as recently as on Friday, however, that SLC CEO Ashley de Silva had stated that participation in the domestic tournament was likely to be essential for World Cup selection.
Although the board has now loosened its grip on Malinga, there is at least one SLC official who feels Malinga had used his connections in India to put pressure on SLC to release him for the IPL. In past years, Malinga has generally prioritised commitments for Mumbai Indians over domestic tournaments.
The latest news will buoy Mumbai, who had already lost Adam Milne to injury. Ahead of their IPL opener – which Mumbai went on to lose to Delhi Capitals – coach Mahela Jayawardene had said about Malinga’s involvement: “The tournament in Sri Lanka is for four or five days in April. So till that time there is availability and when we got in at the auction, Sri Lanka Cricket gave us his availability schedule, so obviously that tournament wasn’t a part of that. So there is a conversation to be made, once we get through that conversation, we will let you know what’s exactly happening.”
Regardless of what happens at the IPL or at the Super Provincial event, Malinga may be forced to cut his time with Mumbai short towards the end of the IPL, as Sri Lanka gear up for the 2019 World Cup. At present, there are plans to do several weeks of training in Scotland, just before the World Cup, which will be played in England and Wales. (ESPNCricinfo)