One of the great limited-overs bowlers in his pomp, Lasith Malinga gained a reputation for delivering searing inswinging yorkers from a round-arm action as destructive as it was distinctive. That yorker, a deceptive slower ball, and an excellent bouncer formed the body of Malinga’s menace, while the action made his deliveries hard to pick up. All that ability was also set off by street smarts; Malinga was rarely shy to switch up plans, and reshuffle fields. Even when batsmen thought they knew what was about to come, Malinga retained the capacity to surprise.
Found in his teens playing soft-ball cricket on the beaches of Rathgama, just north of Galle, Malinga became one of the poster boys for the informal Sri Lankan coaching system and its philosophy of equipping unconventional bowlers, rather than remaking them. Malinga has repeatedly credited Champaka Ramanayake for his success. It was Ramanayake who initially took interest in him, and with whom he developed the yorker that became the foundation of his career. The coach would glue a pair of shoes near the popping crease. Malinga would spend hours bowling at them.
Initially picked for his pace, Malinga toured Australia with the Sri Lanka team in 2004, where he claimed 6 for 90 in a tour match and went on to make his Test debut – he dismissed Darren Lehmann and Adam Gilchrist in the same over, in Darwin. During an impressive tour of New Zealand the following year, his low-slung action resulted in the New Zealand batsmen asking the umpire to change the colour of their trousers as the ball was getting lost.
But it was in the shorter formats that destiny beckoned Malinga. He became the first – and, so far, only – bowler to claim four wickets in four balls, when he took Sri Lanka to the brink of victory against South Africa, in the 2007 World Cup. He has two more ODI hat-tricks – against Australia and Kenya – and he quickly established himself as Sri Lanka’s limited-overs spearhead. Though Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan also played important roles, Malinga was arguably the single-most important player in Sri Lanka’s excellent run in global tournaments from 2007-2014.
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