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Malinga the magnificent: A memoir

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31st July, 2019
2

It would always end this way, wouldn’t it?

A wicket off the final ball of his stellar ODI career, does it get any more fitting than that?

It was just what the doctor ordered. Off he went again, for one last match-winning spell. His mannerisms have become iconic.

The little kiss on the ball before he settles into a slow jog that soon accelerates into a fierce run. His blonde-tipped frizzy curls fluttering effervescently in the breeze as he bounds into the wicket, steely eyed and determined.

That big wind-up as he plants his back foot firmly on the bowling crease ready to unfurl yet another toe-crushing yorker. There are moments when his unique slinging action reminds one of Jeff Thompson in his pomp, but this time it would be the final hurrah of Sri Lanka’s behemoth of modern ODI bowling.

Lasith Malinga has bid adieu, and in his characteristic way he pillaged 3 for 38 in last match to remind us that he’s still got it, even after all these years.

The chants of ‘Mali! Mali! Mali!’ would reverberate all around Colombo’s R. Premadasa Stadium, as the island nation cheered on the final link to their cricketing golden era.

Lasith Malinga gets ready to bowl for Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka veteran Lasith Malinga. (Michael Bradley/AFP/Getty Images)

The story of Lasith Malinga’s slinging, roundarm bowling action and indeed his swift rise to cricketing stardom is a fascinating tale.

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There are many variations to it, however the most common narrative is that he grew up playing tennis ball cricket on the beaches of his hometown Rathgama, a little seaside village on the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka where the total population rarely hit the four figure mark.

Due to the strong breeze that would blow in from the ocean waves, bowling overarm proved to be a fruitless task on those sandy beaches. The wind would take the lightweight tennis ball wildly off the stumps meaning that even the best beach cricketer would concede numerous wides no matter how well-directed their deliveries were.

The young Malinga counteracted this by bowling with a much more whippy, round arm action to negate the gusty ocean breeze as well as generating enough pace to zero in on the stumps effectively.

Little did he know, that not only would his action challenge the wind, it would one day challenge the entire cricketing world.

Malinga was soon discovered in his late teens by former Sri Lankan paceman Champaka Ramanayake who initially tried to remodel his action to a more conventional one. Ramanayake’s orthodox coaching methods proved to be ineffective, as Malinga lost considerable pace and his accuracy plummeted.

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The maverick speedster needed to go back to what he was comfortable with, and it wasn’t long before he rose swiftly through the ranks.

From beach cricket to the national side, Malinga was scything through batting line-ups all over Sri Lanka, as his unique roundarm bowling action gained much attention across the island.

The platform was now set for the world to witness the marvel that Malinga was destined to be. His Test debut came in 2004 against the mighty Aussies in their own backyard and he flourished, claiming 6 for 92.

The slinging action proved too much for the likes of Darren Lehmann, Adam Gilchrist and even Matthew Hayden, as they struggled to decipher this youngster who seemed to bowl yorkers and bouncers with complete control.

Although Australia eventually won that match, all the talk was about Malinga. Little was known about him before that game, but now that he had dismissed Gilchrist for a duck on debut, the spotlight was firmly on him. If they didn’t know who he was then, they certainly did now.

Gilchrist was so impressed with Malinga’s efforts that the Aussie legend offered him a match stump in respectful recognition of his performance that day. “This is for that boy Malinga,” the Australian great said as he handed it to the bewildered young quick.

Lasith Malinga celebrates a wicket.

Sri Lanka’s Lasith Malinga (Clive Mason/Getty Images)

More greatness was to follow. In December 2006 Lasith ‘Slinger’ Malinga decimated New Zealand in the second Test at Wellington, snaring 5 for 68 as the Kiwis folded for 130. By now he had refined his trademark inswinging yorker which was his secret weapon and it proved to be almost unplayable.

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Nathan Astle, Matthew Sinclair and Daniel Vettori were some of the big names to fall to him that day as Malinga ran amok and delivered his country a mammoth 217 run victory.

A recurring knee injury meant his Test career had to be cut short, but his ODI prowess was growing exponentially. Malinga’s famous double hat trick against South Africa in the 2007 World Cup is a cricketing moment that is still spoken about to this day, as it typified the exhilarating player he could be.

He instilled hope and an extra degree of potency to a Sri Lankan bowling attack that often relied too much on the efforts of their champion offspinner Muttiah Muralitharan. Now that Malinga was in the fold for good, Sri Lanka were feared as a considerable threat in the one-day arena.

The arrival of the T20 cricket had many lamenting that it was increasingly becoming a batsman’s game, but Malinga had other ideas. It was the perfect stage for him, and he prospered.

With his low, slingy roundarm bowling action gaining increasing global prominence, he quickly became an attractive commodity for many fielding captains, perfecting the art of death bowling.

The accolades and awards were heaped on him by the bucketload.

Named in the ‘Team of the Tournament’ for the 2009 and 2012 T20 World Cup as well as being picked for the all IPL’s all-time XI on its ten-year anniversary, Malinga’s value as a death bowler at the end of an innings proved to cement his reputation as the man his team could rely on to get them out of any pressure situation.

In the fourth season of the IPL, Malinga was presented the prestigious purple cap award for being the highest wicket-taker, collecting 28 scalps across 16 games.

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He was instrumental in helping the Mumbai Indians secure several premierships throughout his time with the franchise, as well as winning the T20 World Cup for Sri Lanka in 2014.

Australian fans soon grew to fall in love with Malinga as well, and in BBL02 he was the second-highest wicket taker for that season, taking an astonishing 13 wickets in just seven games at a ridiculous average of just 10.69 for the Melbourne Stars.

His best figures of 6 for 7 against the Perth Scorchers again showed what a devastating bowler he could be. That day was Malinga on full show as he executed the vast array of toys he had at his disposal. The reverse and inswinging yorker at full pelt, the deceptive slower offcutter yorker, the slower ball bouncer, the away swinger pitched just back-of-a-length – you always felt that every Malinga delivery was a homing missile ready to blast out those three pegs at any given moment.

Whilst other fast bowlers looked to contain and not bleed too many runs in their short four-over spell, Malinga was well and truly on the attack to rearrange those stumps time and time again.

As it stands, he is currently the all-time second-highest wicket-taker in T20 internationals and is only two scalps away from taking the number one pole, a feat that would make him the first bowler to achieve 100 international wickets in T20 cricket. Given that he will kick on until the next T20 World Cup in November 2020, you can be certain the Sri Lankan slinger is on the hunt to achieve that well-deserved milestone.

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With his departure from the one-day format you really do wonder what will become of Sri Lankan cricket in the near and distant future, given that they have become a diminishing force in recent years. Malinga was truly an asset and a key instigator in keeping Sri Lanka a powerhouse in limited-overs cricket for over a decade.

He was a captain’s dream and a batsman’s nightmare, and always ensured there were bums on seats whenever he had that cricket ball in his hand. He’s also proven to be handy with the bat at times, his only ODI fifty coming in a mercurial game against Australia in 2010 at the MCG.

Rallying hard with Angelo Mathews, the pair put on a gutsy 132 run partnership to take Sri Lanka out the mire at 8 for 107 to secure one of the unlikeliest victories one-day cricket has ever seen.

Cricket always seems to embrace the unique, unusual and highly unconventional, of which Malinga was a proud ambassador. Those unplayable yorkers, the slingy roundarm action, those blonde tipped curls and passionate wicket celebrations are just a few of the characteristics I will miss about this special cricketer.

He leaves one-day cricket as Sri Lanka’s third highest wicket-taker and ninth-highest overall. There is no doubt that he has cemented his status as an all-time legend of the game who we will all sorely miss in years to come. Happy retirement Lasith Malinga!