Lasith Malinga's absence will hurt Sri Lanka immensely © Getty Images
Lasith Malinga’s absence will hurt Sri Lanka immensely © Getty Images

As far as defending champions go, Sri Lanka are a far cry from the team that won ICC World T20 2014. The fact that they have lost both Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara is bad enough, but with Lasith Malinga, Tillakaratne Dilshan, and Rangana Herath on their last legs, it seemed Sri Lanka had almost no chance to defend their title. Afghanistan would have gone into their opening match against Sri Lanka quietly confident of pulling off a victory. That Sri Lanka managed to overcome the spirited Afghan threat is largely down to the fact that Dilshan finally found some form. Had it not been for that innings, Sri Lanka would probably have lost. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: Sri Lanka vs Afghanistan, T20 World Cup 2016, Super 10 Group 1, Match 16 at Kolkata

Even with Dilshan in form and the likes of Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal in the line-up, Sri Lanka’s batting order is unlikely to give anyone sleepless nights. However, it is their bowling that leaves even less of a mark. Barring Dushmantha Chameera, Sri Lanka do not have anyone in the line-up who can both take wickets and keep the runs down. READ: Afghanistan vs Sri Lanka, ICC T20 World Cup 2016, Match 16 at Kolkata: Tillakaratne Dilshan’s 83, Asghar Stanikzai’s 62, and other highlights

T20 cricket is a batsman’s game, but it can be argued that the side with the better bowling will win more often. We saw only last month that Mohammad Aamer nearly helped Pakistan defend 83 against India. Had he had more support from the other Pakistan bowlers, that may well have happened. READ: Lasith Malinga ruled out of T20 World Cup 2016 due to recurring knee injury

For as long as Sri Lanka have played T20 cricket, Lasith Malinga has been that one bowler who could make a difference between victory and defeat. If AB de Villiers is a magician with the bat, Malinga was the sorcerer with the ball. The pinpoint yorkers, the impossible-to-pick slower balls, and the skill to employ either at will made Malinga the ideal T20 bowler. Malinga is the leading wicket-taker in T20 cricket with 299 victims. He also has the most wickets in IPL by a long way, despite not playing the inaugural edition of the tournament.

Sadly, it looks like Malinga’s cricketing days are at an end. His recurring injuries may prevent him from reaching the 300-wicket mark in T20s. The skill is still there — he showed that in the last T20I he played, where he took 4 for 26 against UAE — but the body is no longer holding up.

Sri Lanka did not stand a realistic chance even with Malinga in the side. Without him, their hopes of even reaching the semi-final stage are virtually non-existent. It would have been wonderful for the tournament to see a fully fit Malinga in action. The T20 World Cup 2016 is poorer without Malinga, and Sri Lanka’s chances have gone from slim to negligible.

(Shiamak Unwalla, a reporter with CricketCountry, is an animal lover and comic, film and TV geek. A fast bowler at heart, he loves watching a good, low-scoring game of cricket. His Twitter handle is @ShiamakUnwalla)