How do we solve a problem like Malinga?

Lasith Malinga

Lasith Malinga was not happy. In the first One Day International this baby faced Pakistani rookie opener Sharjeel Khan had treated him with utter disdain. It hurt his pride.

After an uneventful opening over by Suranga Lakmal, Malinga taking the other new ball at the other end bounced at the young man. The ball was a scorcher. It bounced steeply and took Khan’s shoulder while passing him. Benevolently Malinga pointed at the shoulder when wicket keeper Kumar Sangakkara looked to appeal. “A little dressing down would teach the lad who I am,” Malinga may have thought.

Next ball was another scorching bouncer, but this time the young batsman was ready for it and took it on its stride and hooked it. The ball sailed over many heads behind the boundary line and hit a part of the building.

Malinga – now not a happy man pulled another trick out of the bag. This time the yorker slightly weighing more to the leg stump was clipped by the young lad with all consummate ease to the mid-wicket boundary. In the same over there was another boundary scored off Malinga.

Spurred by that, Khan became another in the short-list of Pakistani batsmen who had scored a half century in their debut, but Malinga – now the victim finished the inning with figures of 0 for 59 off his ten overs.

Now this is the second match. Sharjeel, Malinga’s adversary, had clipped him, yet again for another boundary. “This nonsense has to stop at one point,” Malinga would have thought. He changed and indicated that he was going to operate round-the-wicket.

Malinga ran in and dropped the ball short. With his round arm action, the ball pitched outside the off stump but straightened out once it hit the green. The ball first took the flap of the pad before hitting elsewhere. The Pakistani umpire, Shozab Raza, ruled in favour of Malinga, but the batsman called for a review – anyway the ball was hitting the stump fair and square and Sharjeel’s technique had let him down.

The sense of triumph and relief could have been seen on Malinga’s face and the very reaction when he had Sharjeel. For us it was a

After being inconsistent in the first four games, Malinga returned to impress with four wickets in Sri Lanka’s win against Pakistan on Friday – AFP

bigger relief. This was Malinga whom we are used to — a bowler who can out-think the batsman. Get him out by cricketing means and not by sledging.

Yet, ironically Malinga finished that inning with figures of 1 for 78 — disappointing figures for a bowler who is considered the best in the business of short-cake cricket and a bowler who had given up the longer version of the game to hobnob with the cowboy gang.
From the time he rose up from the southern bushes, Malinga was something special. First it was his slinging action that baffled the top rung cricketers. But, he was not just another goldilocks cricketer with a smiling face. He grew up with every delivery. He was a fast learner and he added variations to his slinging armor. Soon most top batsmen in the world learned that playing the first ball and playing the next won’t be the same – always you are ready for the surprise. Especially in T-20 cricket Malinga became an adversary.
Yet, of late, his opposition has been facing him with confidence. His bouncers are hooked and his yorkers are taken on the full or played down without much difficulty.

In the last T-20 World Championship final Marlon Samuels took on him and counter-swung him to all parts of the city. Malinga bowled his four overs at 13 runs a piece and ended up with 0 for 54 in four.

For Sri Lanka’s cricket. fast bowler Lasith Malinga is different merchandise. After the Murali-Vaas era, Malinga is the most talked about international bowler in the world stage and is still considered a world class performer. He is invited to play in many a tournament and once they sign in the bowler Malinga comes on the billboards. In Melbourne, Malinga is there as big as life on the Big-Bash signboards.

Now the question is – is Malinga on the decline or is this just a setback? In the graph of his last dozen ODIs, the pointer shows a downward movement. In his last three innings, the Pakistani batsmen have scored 58, 78 and 59 respectively in his thirty overs — which squares off to 6.5 runs an over, just to bag two wickets. Then he celebrated Christmas with a 0 for 40 in seven overs.
Even in his last limited overs appearance in Colombo for NCC against Bloomfield, Malinga was taken for 50 runs in 7.3 overs – and he went wicketless.

If another bowler including Nuwan Kulasekera who was once placed at the top of the ICC ODI bowling rankings, came up with this performance that bowler would have be given marching orders. But, could Malinga be treated in the same vein?

We all know still if Kumar Sangakkara feels that he has a dent in his repertoire and not making runs, he would not back-off. He would get down to business and work on it. He would even go to his mentor Sunil Fernando to discuss the problem.

However, we hear that Malinga does not even want to fall in line with the present national fast bowling Coach Chaminda Vaas. Vaas is not just another pretty pale face that the Lankans repeatedly keep hiring whether they are capable of doing the job or not. He has been in the middle almost in the same era and knows a thing or two about how modern batsmen think. He was one of the best in the business while he was in and he also can part with some knowledge if it required from him. Remember how the New Zealand fast bowlers troubled the Lankan batsmen when they hired Vaas on a previous tour.

Yet, the question here is: Does the present players solicit Vaas’ expertise – especially the senior gang who are given the task of dancing on the international stage? This especially applies to Malinga, because there is a seething problem. The Lankan seam bowlers in the present context are not performing as they should in the international stage. If the spinners cannot put weight on the brake-pedal in the mid overs, it’s ‘goodnight Irene’ for the Lankans.

Short-cake cricket is Sri Lanka’s forte and as far as Nishantha Ranatunga and company at Maitland Place think that Test cricket is not important, this situation is bound to prevail. Besides, we cannot afford to talk about our Test cricket fortunes anymore because we have not indulged in it seriously during the latter moons.

The problem becomes compounded when a bowler in the calibre of Malinga slips. When that happens, the Lankan captain loses his trump card and has nowhere to look.

Performing in one in five matches is not the business of Malinga. He has to lead the pack and guide them. In recent times when Sri Lanka played Test cricket, Rangana Herat did it and even now he is rated the third best in the ICC rankings.

The hierarchy will seriously have delve into the matter and look as to where the problem lies. There is no point in looking for ‘kekille’ solutions. Look to the real one and seal it, because it is bigger than what we think.

(Courtesy: Sunday Times)