In World Cup year there’s no time for Sri Lanka to rebuild: Lasith Malinga
Lasith Malinga's Sri Lanka are ranked No 8 in ODIs. © AFP

With the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup less than six months away, Sri Lanka captain Lasith Malinga has upped the stakes for his eighth-ranked team by stating that now is the time for the best to deliver.

Sri Lanka meet New Zealand in the first ODI of the year at Bay Oval on Thursday, and with seven more games before the start of the World Cup, Malinga has called on his team to get their act together in New Zealand.

“There’s not time to rebuild – the World Cup is this year,” he told reporters at Bay Oval on Wednesday. “Now we have to find who is the best in Sri Lankan cricket. The last three or four years we’ve struggled for consistency but a lot of the young players are getting good opportunities.

“Now is the time to stand up and show our character. All the players are keen to do that. We’ll try to start 2019 well.” (ALSO READ: Crunch time for New Zealand, Sri Lanka as World Cup year begins)

Sri Lanka have faded as an ODI force over the past couple of years, as highlighted by 0-5 whitewashes to Pakistan and India and a home loss to Zimbabwe in 2017. In recent months, they were eliminated in the first round of the Asia Cup and lost at home 2-3 to South Africa and 1-3 to top-ranked England.

“The last couple of series we’ve performed well at the end of the tournament – what people have to understand is that we have to perform well when the series starts,” said Malinga, 35.

Sri Lanka have bolstered their side with return of the unorthodox seamer Malinga along with Kusal Perera, Asela Gunaratne, Seekkuge Prasanna, Thisara Perera and Dasun Shanaka. With Angelo Mathews ruled out with injury, Sri Lanka have a big void in the middle order.