The moment arrived in the 30th over. When Dilshan Munaweera took the catch of Virat Kohli at the sweeper cover position, Lasith Malinga's both arms went up in air in celebration. It was his 300th ODI wicket. He was filled with jubilation, but more than the happiness, you could see relief on his face. After all, he was made to wait for quite a long time.

Sample this. The pacer began the series against India in the hunt of two wickets to reach the milestone, but it took him 24.3 overs, 147 deliveries and 4 ODIs to reach the 300-wicket mark in the 50-over format. Not to forget, in the process he also conceded 147 runs. 

Quite confusing, right? 

Source: b'AFP'

Malinga has lately looked like a pale shadow of his former self. Sri Lank's senior-most bowler, who once instilled fear in the mind of batsmen with his toe-crushing yorkers and menacing pace, has looked like any other run-of-the-mill bowler in the ongoing series. In the Colombo ODI, he leaked 82 runs in 10 overs and looked thoroughly ineffective as India smashed 375 and clinched the match by 168 runs. 

The downfall has a lot to do with the 19-month lay-off that the cricketer had to suffer due to knee injury. Malinga, also called 'The Slinger' has struggled for wickets since his return to international cricket this year. The bowler who took 291 wickets in 191 matches before the injury has managed a mere nine wickets in 12 ODIs since his return. He's averaging over 65, a steep rise in comparison to his career average of 28.90. 

Fitness has also been an issue with the 34-year-old pacer. He was recently involved in a public spat with the sports minister, after he and the team were derided for the lack of fitness. 

Source: b'AFP'

Malinga has spearheaded Sri Lanka's bowling attack for quite a long time and had been one of the biggest protagonists of their success in recent years. His match-winning spell led Sri Lanka to the 2014 World T20 title - their second world silverware since the 1996 World Cup. Injuries and age has however taken the sting out of the slinger. 

This is how Indian opener Shikhar Dhawan described the bowler after he smashed a ton in the first match. “He is a bit old now, and with time, I feel that his pace has gone down a bit too. That’s why we are able to attack him more, and as batsmen, that’s what we look at. This is natural though, because he has played so much cricket. It is just a cycle, life cycle.”

Source: b'AFP'

 The bowler before the Colombo ODI had expressed the desire to play till 2019 World Cup. However, after the match he admitted that his future is up for consideration. 

"No matter how experienced I am - if I can't win a match for the team and do what the team needs, there's no point in me being here. I'll see if I can make up for that 19 months and regain that form over the next 3 or four months," Malinga said.

Malinga - who has retired from Test - was expected to bring more balance to the series after Sri Lanka were trounced 3-0 in the Tests at home. After all, he has been for a long time been their only strike bowler and difference maker. But his failure to rediscover the panache has proved to be penance for the hosts.

Feature image: AFP