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Lasith Malinga is perhaps the greatest T20 bowler, but recent trends have shown he can be dominated

Lasith Malinga is perhaps the greatest T20 bowler, but recent trends have shown he can be dominated

There have been four occasions in 2012 when Lasitha Malinga (above) conceded over 70 runs a game in ODIs © Getty Images

In a game dominated by batsman, Lasith Malinga stands out with his idiosyncratic slingy action and the ability to do the unthinkable with the ball. The Sri Lankan is perhaps the most feared fast-bowler in the one-day game as his vicious yorkers have the potential to clean-up the best in the business. If the awkward action wasn’t enough, the deliveries come at a serious pace – headed towards your toes or the base of the stumps. It is this phenomenal accuracy that makes him such a decisive factor – one that can make or break the day for his side.

In a previous article, this writer discussed if Chris Gayle is the greatest batsman in the short history of T20 cricket. This time around, the question is: Is Malinga the greatest bowler in the batsman’s format?

Statistics would tell you that Malinga is easily the most prolific bowler in T20 cricket. He holds a number of records and that reflects his dominance in the format. Sri Lanka and the Mumbai Indians in particular have reaped rich rewards by using him intelligently and he has become an integral part of their setups. Take him out of the equation, and their bowling attacks look completely different. Even though Sri Lanka have the likes of Ajantha Mendis and other tricky bowlers, they depend on Malinga to produce his magic. If he goes for plenty, more often than not they are on the wrong side of the result.

Malinga is the second highest wicket-taker in T20 cricket. Let us have a look at the list of leading wicket-takers in T20 cricket:

Player

M

Wkts

Avg

SR

4WI

5WI

Eco

Best

Dirk Nannes

157

188

21.67

17.8

5

1

7.28

5-40

Lasith Malinga

128

171

17.70

16.0

5

2

6.63

5-13

Alfonso Thomas

150

171

21.32

17.5

1

0

7.28

4-27

Yasir Arafat

140

168

22.20

16.6

5

0

8.00

4-17

Albie Morkel

203

167

26.62

20.0

2

0

7.95

4-30

Malinga clearly stands out in this elite company as he trumps the others on a number of parameters. Nannes, the leading wicket-taker, maybe 17 scalps ahead, but Malinga has played 29 fewer games than the left-armer. Malinga leads the way in the average column, the strike-rate, economy rate and the best figures. In fact, Malinga has scalped four or more wickets on seven occasions – which is the joint highest in T20 cricket.

Signs of vulnerability?

The year 2012 hasn’t been particularly happy for Malinga. There have been a number of highs for him, but there also have been occasions where he has been taken to the cleaners – something that was considered impossible at a point in time. It wasn’t the number of runs he conceded, but the manner in which he was demolished by some of the batsmen was astonishing. Despite firing those yorkers in, the batsmen found a way to milk him for runs and denied him a chance to sneak through. To understand the phenomenon better, we must include the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) he has played this year.

Here is a list of instances in 2012 where Malinga has conceded runs at over seven runs an over in ODIs:

Opponent

Venue

Match figures

Result

South Africa

Johannesburg

10-0-79-2

Sri Lanka won

India

Hobart

7.4-0-96-1

India won

Australia

Brisbane

8-0-74-1

Australia won

India

Hambantota

10-0-83-0

India won

It is baffling that a bowler of Malinga’s calibre has conceded runs at such a haemorrhaging rate on four occasions in ODIs this year. To concede over 70 runs in a ten over spell is expensive in the fifty over game and there have been instances where he has breached that mark without completing his quota. Despite such a performance, Sri Lanka managed to win that game at Johannesburg as they completed a spirited run-chase. However, on the other occasions, they were left high and dry.

The story starts at Hobart in February when Malinga was torn apart by Virat Kohli. Even though Malinga was firing them in, Kohli worked him around the corner brilliantly. The assault caught the Sri Lankan off guard and it disturbed his rhythm. In the past, a number of batsmen succeeding in disturbing him by walking around the crease and confusing him. In contrast, Kohli stood still and played him with ease. Kohli showed batsmen around the world that it’s possible to take Malinga to the cleaners like any other bowler.

Malinga’s expensive burst came back to haunt Sri Lanka at the worst possible time – the final of the ICC World T20 2012. Sri Lanka were going brilliantly as they had kept an explosive West Indian batting quiet. In the first 10 overs, West Indies scored only 32 runs for the loss of two wickets. During that phase, Malinga had bowled the solitary over – conceding only four runs. It was evident that Mahela Jayawardene was saving his best bet for the finishing job.

What followed was perhaps more spectacular than what Kohli had done at Hobart. Marlon Samuels stuck into Malinga and carted him all over. All the over-pitched deliveries were dispatched to the boundaries and one could see that Samuels had worked out a strategy to avoid the toe-crushers. Malinga finished with figures of 4-0-54-0. In his last three overs, Malinga had conceded 50 runs. In hindsight, that was the difference between the two sides as Sri Lanka collapsed under the pressure and all the good work put in by the other bowlers was in vain.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)

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