DAMBULLA, Saturday – Lasith Malinga accepted the fact that he is no longer the Slinga Malinga that the cricket world had come to know where his fast toe crushing yorkers and cleverly disguised slow balls had made him a fearful fast bowler and one of the best death bowlers.
With the growing years and maturity Malinga at 35 may have lost some of his fearful pace, but nevertheless he proved that he was still quite a handful as the England batsmen came to realize in the second ODI at the Rangiri Dambulla Stadium on Saturday.
Malinga produced one of his best bowling performances in a long time taking five wickets for 44 runs to restrict the powerful England batting to a total of 278-9 when at one time they looked like running away to a score in excess of 300.
“He certainly stole the momentum away from us today,” said England captain Eoin Morgan in praise of Malinga. “We were in a very solid position to go past a par score and edge to 300 but we didn’t manage to do that. He bowled beautifully, his variations caused a few issues for batsmen coming in early, he’s such a unique bowler, you can’t replicate him, you have to face balls to get used to him. I rate him highly.”
Malinga’s has had his ups and downs in his illustrious career and it was not entirely due to his poor form that he was not selected but for reasons other than cricket.
He marked his return to ODI cricket with a bag of four wickets against Bangladesh in the Asia Cup and followed it up with one wicket against Afghanistan. He went wicketless in the first ODI against England that saw only 15 overs bowled because of bad weather and in the second ODI he was in his element performing the way everyone knows he can.
“Over the last one and a half years I didn’t get an opportunity to play for the national team. I didn’t have an opportunity to train with the national team. I trained by myself and looked at my old videos and things like that,” said Malinga. “But I got an opportunity to play in the Asia Cup, where I got four wickets against Bangladesh and one wicket against Afghanistan. That day I realised that I am not like the previous Malinga, but I can do something for the team using my experience, in whatever situations. I’m looking forward one game at a time. End of the day I have to take wickets. Today I tried my variations and handled the pressure situations.”
MESSAGE TO SELECTORS
On his achievement of picking up his eighth five-for of his career Malinga said, “I’m very happy because playing for your country is a happy occasion. The point is to try and contribute to a team win. Thanks to the support of the other bowlers I was able to get the wickets today. But Nuwan, Akila and Sandakan all bowled well. To keep a good team to 278 was excellent. We couldn’t achieve what we wanted to with the bat. I think we can hope to play better over the rest of the series.”
“At the moment England are a much better team. They are the world No. 1 team. But still whoever we play against, we are trying to play to our strengths. We are an Asian country and we have to keep to our strengths. We tried pace variations and tried to cut down the runs. We were successful towards the end of the first innings,” said Malinga.
“When bowlers take wickets they have different celebrations. When I got those wickets, I got a feeling like: Wow! That’s why I celebrated.”
One must not forget that Malinga was not within the framework of the chairman of selectors who once said that he was not good enough to make it to the World Cup squad. Malinga with his recent performances certainly has proved a point.
“I don’t have a message for them (selectors). In my career I’ve played under several selection committees. They are entitled to make those decisions. I’m just a player. My only job is to play when I get the chance. I hope the team doesn’t change by the time we get to Kandy. If I’m picked for that game, I’ll play,” said Malinga cynically.
“When I was out of the team, I went and played in Canada. I also played the district competition and got the highest number of wickets. Thanks to those performances I got another chance at this level. Because I’m nearing the end of my career I’m motivated to get wickets.”
WORLD CUP PLANS
“I don’t have a plan for retirement as such. What I feel is that if they are not picking me when I am good to play, there’s no point in me hanging around. If I still have the ability to play well and I’m not getting opportunities, it’s better to leave. But for right now, I feel that if I get the chance to play the World Cup I will. It will be my last World Cup. I’m not expecting the chance, given the kinds of things that have happened to me over the recent past (being dropped). I will take it if it’s given,” he said.
Malinga said that he was unaware he had got to 500 wickets in international cricket until someone told him after the match.
“Every bowler looks for wickets. But at the end of the day, if we get wickets it has to serve the team. I’m happy about 500 wickets though - it’s a good milestone to achieve.
“Whether I get wickets or not, it’s disappointing to lose the match. Even though I’ve taken five, that’s not the important thing - it’s about the team. We’ve been losing recently, so that’s disappointing. Even if I’m doing well and the team still loses, it’s of little use to me and of little use to the team. Five is just a number, and I’m on the losing side.”
The majority of his five wickets were taken by bowling cleverly disguised slow yorkers and when asked why batsmen find it difficult to spot it, Malinga replied: “You have to ask that from the opposition. I do what I know how to do. When that ball gets me wickets, people say it’s great. If they had hit fours or sixes off it, people might say that batsmen around the world have got used to my deliveries because I played so much in the IPL. It can go either way, but we can choose to look at it in a balanced and impartial way.”
Malinga said that it was hard to say why Sri Lanka’s fortunes have dipped to a low level in ODI cricket.
“There are a few players who have played for a few years, and others who have played about 20-30 ODIs in this team. There aren’t many more cricketers in Sri Lanka - the best of us have been selected here. If we keep exposing them to the intensity of international cricket, I think these cricketers will eventually be able to handle the mental side of the game at this level. When you cross that rope and go into an international ground, it’s completely different from a club match. It’s with that pressure that mistakes sometimes come. If we can build ourselves up mentally, we’ll get to a good position.”