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Lasith Malinga took four wickets in the 2nd ODI against South Africa © Getty Images (File Photo)

Lasith Malinga, lynchpin of Sri Lanka’s pace attack for the past decade has elevated his game to new heights in 2014. After yet another match winning performance against South Africa in the second One-Day International (ODI), R Vishal analyses the Sri Lankan’s love affair with the Proteas.

 

The setting was the ICC World Cup 2007. While chasing down a modest total against Sri Lanka, South Africa are within touching distance of their target. They just need six runs from 32 balls with five wickets in hand. Cynics can point out to the Proteas’ infamous history of sabotaging wins in the final quarter of the contest. This, however was not one such occasion.

Those toe-crashing yorkers, wicked slower balls bowled with supreme control and unorthodox sling-arm action from Lasith Malinga were in full cry. Four wickets fell in as many deliveries and Malinga had made the meanest arrival on the world stage. South Africa just about got home in that contest. Since then, Malinga has had plenty of fascinating duels against the African nation.

It has not been a one way street by any means. Out of the 15 games that the pacer has played against South Africa, he has gone for 50 runs or more in eight out of the games. On three occasions, Malinga even went for more than seven an over. It’s a sharp contrast to a bowler, who maintains a miserly economy-rate of a touch under six even on flat decks and against boundary-hungry willowy-wielders of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

The leakage of runs could be attributed to the Protea top-order’s supreme expertise against pace. While he has gone for runs aplenty, the wickets have come in heaps too. Actually, along with a solitary five-wicket haul, he has three four-wicket hauls to his name against South Africa. The last of his four-wicket haul came in the second One Day International (ODI) at  Pallekele.

With the third and the decisive ODI coming up, South Africa would be keen to restore a modicum of parity to their wretched record in the Island nation. In crunch encounters in the recent past, Malinga has elevated his game by several notches. Earlier in his career, he was accused of going missing when his team banked on him to set the stage on fire. In the ICC World Cup 2007 and 2011 finals respectively, his opponents outsmarted him and was singled out for his country’s defeats in back-to-back finals.

However, 2014 has witnessed the full bloom of the Galle-born speedster. Scintillating performances in the Asia Cup 2014 final was followed by some of the best death bowling in recent times in the ICC World T20 2014 final against India. With a total of 31 wickets in 15 games and with an impressive average of 21.32, Malinga will be relishing the occasion and the opposition on view in the third ODI. It was after all against South Africa, where the 30-year old’s incredible journey kick-started.

(R Vishal is a journalist and an alumni of the Asian College of Journalism. He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)