Malinga’s Sri Lanka seeks to ruin India’s bid for top spot

LEEDS, England (AP) — Lasith Malinga and Sri Lanka can make one last indelible mark on the Cricket World Cup.

India has booked an appointment in the semifinals, and Sri Lanka can ruin India’s bid to top the standings in their group match finale on Saturday at Headingley.

On the same ground two weeks ago, Sri Lanka upended the tournament by shocking title favorite England. England’s semifinal bid was put in jeopardy, and Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan all came back into semifinal contention. England didn’t put out those fires until two days ago when it advanced to the last four.

The shaggy-haired Malinga, 36 next month, has rolled back the years. He’s replaced the injured Nuwan Pradeep as the strike bowler in a chaotic campaign, and his dozen wickets in the last five games have lifted him into the World Cup’s top three wicket-takers in history.

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This match will also mark the last World Cup outings for at least Angelo Mathews, bowler Suranga Lakmal, and allrounder Jeevan Mendis in the oldest team in the tournament. But Malinga ties the team to its last great era, having featured in the 2007 and 2011 World Cup finals, where he took two wickets in both losing causes.

Apart from two washouts, the batting, especially the middle order, has been the letdown for Sri Lanka in this run. It didn’t come right until last Monday at Chester-le-Street, where Avishka Fernando’s maiden international hundred in his ninth one-dayer led Sri Lanka against West Indies to 338-6, its highest total in 18 months.

After a fine opening stand between Kusal Perera and Dimuth Karunaratne, Fernando shepherded big partnerships with Kusal Mendis, Mathews, and Lahiru Thirimanne. Finally, Sri Lanka posted a total north of 250, and Malinga and Co defended it to beat West Indies by 23 runs for their third win.

Fernando will meet India for the first time. The teams haven’t met since 2017, when they played nine matches. India won seven, but Sri Lanka won the biggest, in the Champions Trophy at the Oval in a chase of 321. Malinga took two wickets on the day, including Rohit Sharma’s.

Sharma has four hundreds at this World Cup, tied with Malinga’s old teammate, Kumar Sangakkara, for the most in a single edition. Stopping Sharma from a fifth gives Malinga another motivation to try and finish his World Cup career in style.

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