Angelo Mathews said Lasith Malinga remains vital to Sri Lanka's bowling plans against India in an ICC Champions Trophy semifinal clash here on Thursday. The Sri Lankan skipper said India could ignore him at their own peril because Malinga had the ability to conjure "something special" in a big game.
When told that Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni said Malinga would be no big threat to the Indian batsmen due to the "familiarity" factor, Mathews replied: "Yes, I am aware we play a lot of cricket together but to ignore Lasith is not a good idea. He remains a very experienced man and he will surely have special plans against them."
It's been a hot and cold tournament for the Lankan speedster so far. Malinga averages 40.88 in ODIs against India, his worst against a team he has faced more than once. Yet, in this Champions Trophy, Malinga remains Lanka's best bowler with seven wickets and a best of 4 for 34 against New Zealand in Cardiff.
Mathews refused to call Thursday's game as a grudge tie because India had hurt them by six wickets in the final of the 2011 World Cup at the Wankhede Stadium. "In sport, there is no word called revenge," he said.
Sri Lanka have a poor record to defend against India. After the 2011 World Cup final, the Lankans have lost seven out of 10 matches against Dhoni's team. One game at the Adelaide Oval in February 2012 ended in a tie.
"We are aware of our poor record. It will be an achievement if Sri Lanka can beat India here tomorrow and on our day, we can beat any side in the world," Mathews said.
As a member of the Pune Warriors team, Mathews has had a close look at India's batting muscle during the Indian Premier League last month. "India are a strong team to beat, but we are prepared physically and mentally," the rookie Lankan skipper admitted in a media conference at the National Cricket Centre here on Wednesday afternoon.
Thursday's semifinal at the Sophia Gardens is threatened by rain and in case of a washout, India will go through to the final in Birmingham on June 23. Mathews said he was not thinking about a situation that was "out of our control."
The 26-year-old skipper admitted Lanka's batting depended heavily on the troika of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan. "They are the backbone of our batting but we have seven batsmen and young guys like (Dinesh) Chandimal and (Lahiru) Thirimanne are in good form," Mathews said.
"We always can't depend on certain players. We have to work as a team and whoever gets set has to bat till the last. It's going to be a mix of Test and ODI batting and we have to keep our batting order flexible," Mathews said when asked on the impact of a Jayawardene in the middle-order.
Having beaten hosts England and defending champions Australia, Sri Lanka are high on motivation and aim to reproduce the killer instinct the team displayed in the group games.
"We are a fighting team. All our three matches went down to the wire. We lost a close game against New Zealand, but the wins against England and Australia give us plenty of confidence. Our bowlers now have the experience to deal with the strong Indian batting," said Mathews.
It's going to be a sell-out crowd here on Thursday. The 16,000 seats will be full at the Sophia Gardens. Rain had spoilt the 2002 final between the two teams on consecutive days in Colombo forcing India and Sri Lanka to share the Champions Trophy for the only time in the history of the mini World Cup.