Slinging in the lethal yorkers
A quaint action somewhere between the underarm and the overarm, facilitating the slipping in of lethal yorkers beneath the willow, putting at risk batsmen’s toes as much as the base of stumps, a thick mop of streaked curly locks bouncing in his spirited run-up, have made the little pace dynamo unique as well as an unforgettable character of the game. Lasith Malinga is as original as one can find, a strike bowler like no other.
The bemused batsmen from Bermuda would have seen nothing like him. Like the other bowlers he enjoyed the easy picking, returning with an analysis of 5-2-10-3. The newcomers collapsed to 78 all out.
Having upset India, Bangladesh could not offer much resistance to the Lankan attack. Malinga had Tamim Iqbal caught behind by Kumar Sangakkara. He then got Aftab Ahmed to top-edge a short ball, for Sanath Jayasuriya to take the skier at square-leg. Mohammad Ashraful used the long handle against him, crashing 2 fours each off two consecutive overs, but in different spells. Malinga, though, had tailender Abdur Razzak snapped up by Sangakkara again as the delivery took off from a length just outside off. Bangladesh were bowled out for 112 in 37 overs. Malinga’s booty this time was three for 27 off 6 overs.
A desperate India could not mount a challenge and packed up for 185. Malinga picked up a late wicket. Sri Lanka had won all their Group B matches with ease, their bowling outfit having cleaned up all 30 wickets.
It was in the super-eight clash with South Africa that Malinga created a sensation towards the end. After 7 overs he had taken no wicket, having conceded 43 runs. Chasing a target of 210, the Proteas were sailing at 206 for five in the 45th over. Malinga’s fifth delivery was a slower one that foxed Shaun Pollock and hit his leg-stick. Next ball, Andrew Hall spooned a yorker into the hands of Upul Tharanga in the covers. One run came off the next over. Jacques Kallis, batting on 86, tried to finish off the match by square-driving the first delivery of Malinga’s next over, but to his chagrin only edged it into the gloves of Sangakkara. Malinga had grabbed the fifth hat-trick of the World Cup as the nervous South Africans searched for those winning runs. Makhaya Ntini could barely get his bat down before the lethal yorker smashed into his middle stump. Malinga had created a sensation around the Providence Stadium with his four-in-four devastation. He conceded just one run in his last four deliveries as the batsmen fiddled around, barely surviving. A maiden followed, and then Malinga’s first delivery missed the outside edge by a whisker. Amid mounting tension, Robin Peterson edged the next to the boundary, just managing to pull off a win by one wicket. Malinga returned with four wickets for 54, nearly sneaking a highly improbable win. It is drama like this that Malinga is always likely to conjour. He shared the man-of-the-match award with Charl Langeveldt who had a five-wicket haul to his name.
Once Sri Lanka had posted 303 for five, hosts West Indies were subdued easily. Chris Gayle was sucked into Malinga’s delivery way outside off, hitting a steepler that was taken at long-on, the first wicket to fall at 20. Shivnaraine Chanderpaul, playing a strange kind of innings having scored 17 off 53 balls without a boundary, suddenly decided to alter his plans. He hit an off-side four and then used the long handle against Muttiah Muralitharan, periodically launching the great off-spinner for 4 sixes. As Malinga bowled the first ball of the 42nd over, Chanderpaul sent it sailing over square-leg for his 5th six. Predictably, Malinga yorked him off-stump next ball. Sri Lanka went on to register a 113-run win. This time Malinga bagged two for 34 off 5 overs.
There was another cliff-hanger with England. After Sri Lanka had put up 235, Chaminda Vaas dismissed captain Michael Vaughan for a duck. Malinga then trapped Ed Joyce leg-before, and suddenly England were 11 for two after 5.2 overs. The following batsmen battled hard, but England were in trouble at 133 for six with 33.3 overs having been bowled. Ravi Bopara and wicketkeeper Paul Nixon staged a rearguard act, carrying the score to 220. Off the fifth ball of the penultimate over, Malinga had Nixon holing out in the covers. Bopara drove the last delivery through the covers to the ropes. There were now 12 runs required off the final over and 3 off the very last ball. Dilhara Fernando bowled a beauty that knocked the top of Bopara’s off-stump. Sri Lanka pulled off a two-run victory. Malinga’s share was two wickets for 50 in his quota of 10 overs.
He missed the last three super-eight matches with an ankle injury but was back for the semi-final. With Sri Lanka having piled up 289 for five, Malinga struck straightaway, his third delivery screaming into skipper Stephen Fleming pad in front of the stumps. That was his solitary wicket at an expense of 21 runs with two maidens in 7 overs. New Zealand folded up for 208.
Adam Gilchrist made the final his own with his hurricane hundred but Malinga broke his huge opening stand of 172 with Matthew Hayden. The big left-hander was playing a remarkably subdued supporting role to the marauding wicketkeeper when he tried to loft Malinga over the covers, for Mahela Jayawardene to take a fine catch springing up just at the right moment. Later he castled Shane Watson but Australia hoisted a mammoth 281 for four in the truncated 38-overs-a-side match. Malinga’s two wickets cost 49 runs in 8 overs, and he bowled the only maiden of the innings. Sri Lanka faded along with the light and had to be content with the runners-up prize.
Malinga took wickets in each of the eight matches that he played, logging a tally of 18 at a brilliant average of 15.77, evidence of his striking ability. He bowled with fire right through, an ideal foil to the experienced Vaas.
Once again he had to sit out the first two matches of the 2011 World Cup. Having recuperated, he was back and how! The first ball of his second over was a venomous trademark inswinging yorker that made a mess of the hapless Kenyan opener Seren Waters, and sent him packing leg-before. Another perfect indipping yorker in his second spell disturbed the furniture behind Collins Obuya. The last ball of his seventh over was once again the toe-crusher that found Tanmay Mishra in front of the sticks. He churned out another lethal yorker first up in his next over that crashed into Peter Ongondo’s middle stump. Malinga was once again on a hat-trick as Shem Ngoche took guard. Predictably, it was another of those under-the-bat thunderbolts which was too good for the no. 10 and darted into the stumps. Malinga had become the first to rip out two hat-tricks in the World Cup. After a wide that ran away to the fine-leg boundary and a dot ball, the fourth legitimate delivery of the over was an action replay of his earlier yorkers, which the mesmerized Elijah Otieno could do nothing about and the leg-stick took the brunt. Kenya were all out for 142; Malinga had a bounty of six wickets, having expended 38 runs in 7.4 overs. Sri Lanka took only 18.4 overs to speed to a nine-wicket triumph. Malinga was man-of-the-match.
The game versus Australia was washed out after less than 33 overs in the Lankan innings. Malinga went wicketless as Zimbabwe were trounced easily. There was one wicket for him at the end as the Kiwis wilted. The thrashing of England in the quarter-final also had him pick up a sole wicket.
After this lean phase, he bowled the first over in the semi-final, and then returned only in the 22nd over. That vicious inswinging yorker, for the umpteenth time, went right through Martin Guptill and crashed into the timber. As Scott Stryis went after Malinga, Kane Williamson too tried to emulate his senior but was another victim of the Malinga patent, the pad in the way right in front. In his next over, Nathan McCullum tried a mighty swing to leg off one that came on slowly and merely nicked it to Sangakkara. Malinga’s haul was three for 55 in 9 overs, with New Zealand being bowled out for 217. The Lankan batsmen ensured a five-wicket win.
Jayawardene gave the side a great opportunity in the final with a magnificent century, and Malinga provided a tremendous opening with two monumental early strikes. Virender Sehwag was rapped on the pad trying to turn the second delivery of the innings and was gone for a duck. He then stunned the boisterous Wankhede Stadium crowd and indeed all of India, moving the first delivery of his fourth over away from a good length. Sachin Tendulkar tried to square-drive, only to get a thickish edge for Sangakkara to fling himself and cling on to the huge prize. Suddenly, India were 31 for two with doubts creeping into the minds of millions of fans. Gradually they extricated themselves from the tangle, built up momentum and brought up victory with a flourish. Sri Lanka were worthy runners-up again, and Malinga finished with two for 42 in 9 overs.
The little powerhouse had played his role, bagging 13 wickets on pitches that were unkind to pacemen for the most part. Once again he had a top-class average of 20.14.
With 31 wickets to his name, Malinga is third for his country behind the peerless Muralitharan and Vaas in the World Cup. His strike-rate of 20.70 is second best among bowlers who have taken at least 15 wickets, as is his average of 17.87 in the list of top wicket-takers in the premier event. This bundle of energy has been an invaluable asset for Sri Lanka. Sadly, injuries prevented the full blooming of his Test career but he has carried on in the shorter formats, electrifying crowds around the world with his stunning strikes.
(From the Hall of Fame section of Indra Vikram Singh’s new book ‘Indian Spring’. The author can be contacted on email firstname.lastname@example.org).