If death bowling is an art, Lasith Malinga is the Picasso of it. Whether it be wearing the dark blue or navy blue, a host of captains from Marvan Atapattu to Rohit Sharma have banked on Malinga to deliver the last over with so much at stake. On Sunday, he did it again. Defending champions CSK were favourites to win their fourth IPL requiring nine runs off the last over. But they failed to overcome the crafty Malinga, who delivered Mumbai’s fourth IPL title instead in Hyderabad.
Sachin Tendulkar after the win said that Jasprit Bumrah was the best bowler in the world and rightly so. Then, why Rohit Sharma didn’t throw the ball to him and instead preferred Malinga?
Malinga didn’t have the best of days. So Rohit’s choice becomes even more peculiar. Rohit would have perhaps put himself in a batsman’s shoes. If Rohit were the batsman, who was the bowler he would have least liked to face – Bumrah or Malinga? It wasn’t rocket science and he was convinced whom to have to deliver the last over. Soon India having Rohit leading the side the better it is.
The Sri Lankan has done it over and over again – both for his IPL franchise and his country. He has turned a contest on its head despite his team having little hope on many occasions.
In the 2007 World Cup, South Africa were cruising at 206 for five with Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock chasing a target of 213. The Proteas had five overs left to knock off the remaining seven runs. Malinga then took four wickets in four balls as the South Africans choked and slumped to 207 for nine. That was 12 years ago and the yorker was Malinga’s bread and butter then. Now 35, he uses other means to deceive the batsman.
Throughout his spell of four overs on Sunday, Malinga had not bowled a single slower ball. He kept it till the very last. It takes some guts to deliver a slower ball when the opposition needs just two runs to win.
What a roller coaster ride this has been for Malinga. Last year it looked that his career had come to an end. Having undergone serious knee surgery in 2015, Malinga made a comeback 18 months later during the Champions Trophy in England in June 2017. He looked a pale shadow of his former self – overweight, unfit and unable to send down ten overs. Malinga took just nine wickets in 13 games after his comeback and was dropped from the side.
He went unsold in the IPL 2018 auction and his country didn’t pick him for the next 12 months. It was clear that Malinga was over the hill when he himself chose a bowling mentor role with his beloved Mumbai Indians. Meanwhile, under new coach Chandika Hathurusingha, the Sri Lankans had adopted a youth policy. It looked all over for Malinga. Then there was a twist in the tale. Mumbai brought him back on the insistence of their head coach Mahela Jayawardene. With Sri Lanka blowing hot and cold, Malinga was recalled for the Asia Cup and he took a five-wicket haul on his return.
A fitter and leaner Malinga gradually became Sri Lanka’s main match-winner again. A change of selection panel with former pacer Ashantha de Mel at the helm saw policy changes as well. Malinga was handed the white ball captaincy six months ahead of the World Cup. Despite being the team’s best performer during the tours of South Africa and New Zealand, Malinga could not muster enough support from his players. There was a revolt. There have been more coups in Sri Lankan cricket than in Pakistan politics. After a bloodless coup, Malinga was replaced as skipper just before the World Cup.
This was after he had committed himself fully to Sri Lankan cricket. Despite being freed to play the IPL instead of the Inter-Provincial domestic tournament, Malinga shuttled between Bombay and Dambulla regularly. There were days when he would finish a game at 10:30 pm at Wankhede, take a flight to Colombo and then drive down to Dambulla to skipper his Galle side, the next morning. His body responded well to playing two games across the Palk Strait in less than 12 hours. His commitment, however, wasn’t appreciated despite Galle reaching the finals. He was axed as Sri Lanka captain.
Speculation was rife that hurt by the fiasco, he was going to give it all away and retire from international cricket. New Sri Lankan skipper Dimuth Karunaratne then convinced Malinga to not to throw in the towel. Malinga is on the way to his fourth World Cup. His country has little chance to make it to the semi-finals this time, unless Malinga comes up with some special effort.
With islandwide curfew imposed and search operations going on everywhere due to the ongoing tensions following the deadly Easter Sunday bombings, his countrymen were in fear of dragging back to the dark days of three decades of bloody civil war. Malinga’s exploits on Sunday night gave them something to cheer about. They can have some hope now at the World Cup.