MANCHESTER – Former Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene praised Lasith Malinga for his ability to step up in big games after the paceman inspired his country's shock World Cup win over England.
Malinga returned figures of four for 43 to help Sri Lanka dismiss England for 212 as they stunningly beat the hosts by 20 runs in Leeds on Friday.
The 35-year-old, often criticised for his unathletic body, rolled back the years at Headingley when he removed England openers James Vince and Jonny Bairstow.
He then got rid of dangermen Joe Root and Jos Buttler to leave England in turmoil.
It was a welcome riposte to the social media doubters who poked fun at Malinga when he was photographed with his shirt off exposing a portly belly before the England match.
"It's not about the six pack, it's about the skill and Lasith Malinga showed that in spades in Sri Lanka's win over England," Jayawardene wrote in his column for the International Cricket Council.
"He has done it so many times for Sri Lanka over the years but it was great to see him at his best. He was on a mission with the new ball.
"Big players perform in big games and that is what he did, removing Root and then Jos Buttler who could have won the game for England as well."
Coming into the game as underdogs, Dimuth Karunaratne's side blew open the race for semi-final places with their unexpected victory and Jayawardene said that is good for the tournament.
England, bidding to win the World Cup for the first time, suffered their second defeat of the group stage following an equally surprising loss to Pakistan.
"It's a great win for Sri Lanka, but also for the World Cup and it opens things up a little," said Jayawardene.
"The top four so far have a lot of matches against each other coming up, so they will inevitably drop some points.
"You look at New Zealand, Australia and England who all have to play each other which does make it interesting.
"That leaves Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the West Indies with a chance to close the gap if they can pick up a few more wins."
Sri Lanka, the 1996 champions, are fifth in the 10-team table, as they hunt a top four finish.AFP