Sri Lanka change skipper ahead of T20 title defence

Colombo – Defending champions Sri Lanka said Lasith Malinga was stepping down as captain of their World Twenty20 side Tuesday after the team’s disastrous Asia Cup showing, with Angelo Mathews to skipper the team in India.

Defending champions Sri Lanka announced Lasith Malinga was stepping down as captain of their World T20 side © AFP/File Lakruwan Wanniarachchi
Defending champions Sri Lanka announced Lasith Malinga was stepping down as captain of their World T20 side © AFP/File Lakruwan Wanniarachchi

The announcement comes only hours after Sri Lanka’s Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera sacked the panel of selectors and appointed a new line-up headed by former player Aravinda de Silva.

In a press conference in Colombo, Jayasekera confirmed that injury-plagued Malinga was also being replaced, but the president of the Sri Lankan board insisted it was the veteran fast bowler’s own decision.

“Last night we finalised the new squad and informed the ICC (International Cricket Council). We have appointed Mathews as captain and (Dinesh) Chandimal as vice-captain,” said Jayasekera.

“Malinga will be the 15th in the squad,” he told reporters ahead of the team’s departure for India later Tuesday.

Malinga presided over a dismal showing by Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup where they were beaten by the hosts, little-fancied Bangladesh, and only just scraped past the United Arab Emirates.

While Sri Lanka won the last World Twenty20 in Bangladesh in 2014, the team has been badly weakened by the retirements of star batsmen Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.

They are eighth in the T20 rankings and few commentators have given them much hope of successfully defending their title in the sixth edition of the format’s world championship, which begins later Tuesday in India.

Malinga, who has been struggling with a knee injury, only played one match in the Asia Cup in Bangladesh where he hinted that he was considering retirement.

The 32-year-old has a long history of injury problems and gave up Test cricket in 2010 as he was unable to withstand the rigours of five-day matches.

Thilanga Sumathipala, president of Sri Lanka Cricket, told reporters that he hoped Malinga would be able to bowl in India but he was cool about his chances of playing a full part.

“He opted to offer to step down as captain. We have kept him in the squad so that he can play at least one match in the tournament,” said Sumathipala, who insisted Sri Lanka could cause an upset in India.

“We still believe we have a very good chance of winning the world cup with this combination,” he said.

“I think we still have a good chance of coming back as the champion T20 team.”

– Stars leave void –

All-rounder Mathews is already the captain of the Sri Lankan Test side, which is also struggling to cope since the departure of Jayawardene and Sangakkara, who has been appointed as a selector.

Sangakkara said although the Sri Lanka squad was finalised only a few hours before the team left for India, it should not be an issue.

“Even in 2014, when we won the T20 World Cup, we did not know who was in the squad until the night before we left (for the tournament),” Sangakkara said.

“What the team needs now is your support, love, understanding and proper guidance,” Sangakkara said. “There is a responsibility on the players to make sure they execute.”

The upheaval in the captaincy and among the selectors is yet another headache for the team’s new coach Graham Ford, who started his second spell in charge last month.

Sri Lanka’s formidable home record took a hit last year with series defeats against the visiting Indian and Pakistan sides.

The islanders then travelled to New Zealand where they were outplayed in all forms of the game in a tour soured by allegations of drinking parties and squabbling.

Although they did win the first game of a three-match series against India last month they were then outclassed in the next two rubbers.

Sri Lanka are due to begin their defence of the World Twenty20 trophy on Wednesday, March 17, when they play one of the two minnows who are taking part in a preliminary round taking place this week.

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