Lasith Malinga. 3 ODI hat-tricks of which 2 came in World Cups. 2 T20I hat-tricks. 4 wickets in a row twice, once each in ODI and T20I. Enough said.
Alright, let me break that down a little more.
Taking 4 wickets in a match is considered good. He has done that in 4 consecutive deliveries multiple times. One hat-trick in a lifetime is a golden achievement. He has taken 3 wickets in 3 deliveries on five separate occasions.
Lasith Malinga has hat-tricks for breakfast. He is just that good.
Sri Lankan cricket has been struggling since the golden generation of Jayasuriya-Dilshan-Sangakkara-Jayawardane-Vaas-Muralitharan-Malinga came to an end. With Sri Lanka recently folding out for 91 in a T20I match against England, we cannot help but look back at one of the stars of the golden days of Sri Lankan cricket.
Malinga turned 37 last year. He has been playing international cricket for 16 years. It seems he has been playing cricket forever.
Same rocking hairstyle, same slinging action, and the same drive to excel. Lasith Malinga has not changed one bit.
Mali, as he is affectionately called, debuted way back in 2004 in a test match against Australia, picking six wickets in the match.
Among a rising golden generation of Sri Lankan cricket that followed the ’96 generation with mellow characters like Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Muttiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas, and Tillakaratne Dilshan, Sri Lanka had found a rockstar.
He was just so different from the rest. That rockstar hair, the left-eye piercing, the in-swinging yorker, and of course, the slinging action.
Different turned into unique, which became something truly special.
With the introduction of Ajantha Mendis and Angelo Mathews, the new entrants to the M-factor: Malinga, Mendis, Muralitharan, and Mathews, Sri Lanka’s golden generation was complete.
Together, Sri Lanka would win the 2014 T20 World Cup, make it to the finals of 2007 & 2011 ODI World Cup as well as the 2009 & 2012 T20 World Cup along with semi-final appearances in the 2003 ODI WC and 2010 T20 WC.
Although I had seen Malinga a few times before, the first moment which caught my eyes was that match against South Africa in the 2007 CWC.
Chasing 210, South Africa were cruising 206-5 in 44.4 overs. Enter Lasith Malinga.
206-6. 206-7. 207-8. 207-9.
First person to take four wickets in four consecutive deliveries in an ODI.
South Africa squeezed to victory with just 10 balls remaining. Although South Africa narrowly escaped, this was the type of spell that would be associated with Malinga.
If Mali gets into his zone, a flurry of wickets, a moment of inspiration, and a comeback is right around the corner.
Due to knee troubles, Malinga had to take a premature retirement from Test match cricket, playing his final test in 2010, at the age of 26. Still ended up with 101 Test wickets.
But when one door closes, another opens. He utilized his short bursts effectively in T20 cricket, becoming arguably the best T20 bowler of all-time in this new era.
Furthermore, Malinga saved his best for the ODI World Cups. Apart from the two hat-tricks, he took 56 world cup wickets, 3rd highest of all time.
The shorter the format, the more lethal Malinga is, as the statistics demonstrate below:
Tests: 30 matches, 101 wickets, 33.15 average, Best Innings – 5/50, Best Match – 9/210
ODIs: 226 matches, 338 wickets, 28.87 average, Best – 6/38, 11 4-fors, 8 5-fors
T20Is: 84 matches, 107 wickets, 20.79 average, Best 5/6
T20s: 295 matches, 390 wickets, 19. 69 average, Best 6/7, 5 5-fors, 10 4-fors
IPL: 170 matches, 170 wickets, 19.8 average, 5/13, 16.6 strike rate, 1 5-for, 6 4–fors
Post-test retirement, he had a purple patch.
He featured in Cricinfo’s Team of the Tournament in the 2011 World Cup, the 2011 IPL (where he was also the Purple Cap holder), and the 2011 Champions League among others.
The cherry on top of the cake would occur in 2014, when he would captain Sri Lanka to 2014 T20 World Cup glory.
No discussion on Malinga is complete without the IPL. Malinga is the highest wicket-taker in all IPLs, even while playing one season less than the next 4 on the list.
Only one of few players to have played for one team, Malinga is synonymous with the rise of Mumbai Indians as he was an instrumental force in their championship wins- 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019.
Even after a not-that-great IPL, he would comeback and defend an amazing final over in the IPL Final 2019.
Apart from being their bowling spearhead, he has played a crucial role in mentoring the next generation of fast bowlers from around the world. Most notably, Jasprit Bumrah’s rise has been credited with Malinga’s influence at MI.
Later in his career, he has been seen on numerous occasions meeting players from opposition camps and giving them tips. Sign of a truly great player and leader.
What Makes Malinga So Great?
The consistency, accuracy, and longevity.
Bowling a yorker is hard. A bouncer even harder. Four World campaigns later, bowling consistently with recurring injury issues for 16 long years? A miracle.
Malinga’s skill set is an envy of the world. Slower yorker, fast yorker, in-swinging yorker, out-swinging yorker, wide-yorker, slower bouncer, fast-bouncer—he has it all. The astonishing part is he can bowl any of these at will. The Australians will testify to that.
Malinga’s bowling has become an art form. He perfected his yorkers by aiming just at a shoe in the nets. Slingy bowling style does not help the batsmen either.
More than the bowling style, it has been his ability to out-think the batsman. In the age of technology and video recordings, everyone knows what Malinga can bowl. They just do not seem to figure out when he will bowl what and still end up getting tricked.
One of the less talked about characteristics of Malinga has been his commitment to the Sri Lankan cricket team. Since the retirement of the golden generation, Sri Lanka’s fortunes have nosedived. Once guaranteed semi-finalists, Sri Lanka now ranks 7th and 8th in T20I and ODI respectively.
Amidst the nosedive, Mali stayed with the national team. He captained them in dire circumstances, even starring in their 2019 World Cup campaign and a little after to help in the transition.
Did he have to do that? Not really. With bad knees and paunch belly showing up, he could have retired from international cricket and enjoyed successes with various T20 leagues around the world.
But Mali being Mali, he decided to stay and give back to the team that has taken him to greatness.
That is what Lasith Malinga teaches us.
There will good times and tough times. Ups and downs will occur, but you need to stay true to your sport, art or profession. Never give up, continue to improve and develop new skills, and most importantly, mentor and help anyone and everyone out. Give back to the sport and your country.
Happy Birthday, Mali. You have given us great memories to cherish.
Rock that IPL 2020 (whenever you get there), and give it one final shot.
Apart from the links above in the article, here are some of the hat-trick clips and other favorite memories of Malinga.
What is your favorite Malinga memory? Comment below, subscribe, and share this article ahead!
Source: ESPNCricinfo, YouTube, IPLT20.com
Image Courtesy: Lasith Malinga (cropped) – NAPARAZZI / CC BY-SA , Afghanistan Vs Sri Lanka 2019 World Cup (Getty via Cricinfo)