Lasith Malinga in action © Getty Images
Lasith Malinga in action © Getty Images

 

By Suneer Chowdhary

 

A friend queried me on one of the social networking sites on Tuesday, ‘Will Malinga play today?’

 

I replied that there was a good chance. He said he needed to decide on whether or not to put him in his ‘Fantasy’ side. The friend went on to add that even if he is half-fit but plays, it was worth the risk to put him in his side given his propensity to bowl those toe-crushers – a delivery not too many Associate batsmen would pick up.

 

Kumar Sangakkara was at the opening ceremony in Dhaka when he was informed that Malinga had done his fitness again. The captain was miffed. A clear indication of how highly he regards Malinga and what it means to the team’s aspirations of winning the World Cup again.

 

Malinga devastated Kenya – six wickets across three spells in eight overs, including a hat-trick. He had made Sri Lanka’s day, his captain’s day and my friend’s as well.

 

Not too many bowlers have picked up a hat-trick in ODI cricket – let alone World Cup. Malinga has done twice in World Cup cricket! And if he plays long enough, I wouldn’t bet against a third, fourth or a fifth. Such is his action which is complemented by a razor-sharp accuracy and at pace.

 

Of course, the opponents were lowly-rated Kenya, who had been bowled out for 69 and 112 in the two previous World Cup matches. Yet, accolades are fully deserved. All of Malinga’s victims were bowled or lbw – another indicator of how difficult the batsmen found it to get bat to ball. I can stick my nose out and bet that most top teams would have lost three or four, if not six.

 

What makes it even more amazing is that most of the batsmen knew what was coming – an impending death; the ball shattering the stumps or crashing against their pads to be caught plumb in front. And yet, not too many batsmen could do much about it. They were left clueless when it happened.

 

Malinga said, “I watched Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis a lot in their playing days and how they bowled with the older ball to devastating effect. I liked their style and I wanted to emulate them. The wicket here was a bit slow (against Kenya) and I thought rather than bowling fast I should bowl a few Yorkers. That worked really well.”

 

It is not as simple as Malinga makes it out to be! Not everyone is gifted enough to come, see and conquer in the manner that Malinga explains. Waqar and Akram are once in a generation cricketers, who mastered their art because they were not only talented but also had a legendary leader in Imran Khan guiding them. Malinga had Champaka Ramanayake.

 

As much as it requires talent, it requires bowling million of deliveries at the nets.

 

Malinga’s first hat-trick – against South Africa – had come in more trying conditions. Sri Lanka were all but out of the game. South Africa needed next to nothing to win that game when Malinga spelt doom, picking up four wickets in four balls – two of which were bowled!

 

Injuries have reduced Malinga’s potency. Only recently, a fully-fit Malinga was rested from a full Test series to allow him to remain fit for the World Cup. With age, as well as with the effects on the body of bowling with an action that is unique amongst contemporary cricketers – except Fidel Edwards, who bowls similarly – Malinga will need to keep finding ways of bouncing back. As he did against Kenya.

 

(Suneer is a Mumbai-based cricket writer and can be contacted at suneerchowdhary@gmail.com and Tweets here: @suneerchowdhary)