'He has talent and he will go a long way if supported properly. But he is just beginning, so don't compare him with legends like Lasith Malinga or Chaminda Vaas.'
Matheesha Pathirana's sling-shot action immediately brings Lasith Malinga to mind but the young Sri Lankan did not deliberately copy his illustrious senior, his childhood coach Bilal Fassy said on Thursday, insisting that the much talked-about bowling style came naturally to the pacer.
His Malinga-like action has also earned Pathirana sobriquets like Podi (Little) Malinga in Sri Lanka and Baby Malinga among Chennai Super Kings (CSK) fans.
Pathirana had a breakout season for IPL champions CSK. He snared 19 wickets from 12 matches and was Mahendra Singh Dhoni's go-to bowler in crunch situations.
While Dhoni is grooming the 20-year-old as CSK's designated death overs specialist, the Sri Lankan cricket establishment should handle him with utmost care, feels Fassy.
"Seeing his action, a lot of people think that he has modelled it after seeing Malinga. Pathirana also trained under Malinga. But he came to me with this action from day one, and we just worked on it a bit, considering it can put a lot of stress on his young body," Fassy told PTI.
Despite a rising profile, Pathirana still seeks the guidance of Fassy, who runs a cricket training centre in the Trinity College in Pallekele.
Fassy was impressed with Pathirana's genuine ability to generate pace when he first joined his camp five years back.
"He (Pathirana) was naturally quick. He did not have to put in a lot of effort to get pace unlike some other boys. On top of it, he was very accurate too as you might have seen while he was bowling in the IPL. He has a fast and accurate yorker that can trouble even the best. His arm speed is just outstanding," he said.
Fassy cautioned against burdening the young man with expectations.
"He has talent and he will go a long way if supported properly. But he is just beginning, so don't compare him with legends like Malinga or (Chaminda) Vaas."
"Let him be his own and allow him to work on his skills and make a mark. He is important for Lanka as we have two World Cups in two years (50-over in 2023, T20 WC in 2024)," he noted.
Eric Simons, the former India bowling coach, who now works with CSK in a similar role, too was an impressed man.
"I have worked with Pathirana over two seasons (2022, 2023) in the IPL. He has shown tremendous improvement. He is a quick learner. Yes, at times he can be a bit erratic," the South African told PTI.
But what impressed him more is his temperament, considering that he is barely out of his teens.
"But for someone who has started top level cricket a couple of years back, he has shown a good temperament to handle a tough task like bowling at death in T20s. I feel he is going to be a big part of Sri Lanka and CSK for a long time," Simons said.
With the ODI World Cup approaching fast, Sri Lanka are racing against time to make their first-choice bowling unit battle ready, as three pacers are nursing injuries.
Dushmantha Chameera, Lahiru Kumara and Dilshan Madhushanka are out of the Asia Cup 2023, and the trio is battling to get in for the quadrennial big show.
Hence, Sri Lanka is hoping that a 20-year-old prodigy will be ready for a bigger role sooner than later.
"His strength is his unorthodoxy. He has shown that in the IPL, and he has good pace as well. We can gradually hand him more responsibility, and he has a good attitude as well. We are looking at him as a long-term option, and hopefully, he can be someone like (Lasith) Malinga for us," said Sri Lankan captain Dasun Shanaka.
Former India skipper Dhoni had an advise for Sri Lanka cricket establishment during the 2023 IPL.
"I feel he should not play red-ball cricket, not even get close to it, he can play only ICC tournaments. He is young and he would be a great asset for Sri Lankan cricket," Dhoni had said.