Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Why Malinga is special
Nowadays, I feel like I am not enjoying the game of cricket anymore. When I watched champions league, I felt like Leonardo da Vinci was applying whitewash to my house as batsmen with those big bats were playing agricultural slogs and the bowlers seemed to be clones, who have mechanical bowling actions. Of course, the media is there to glorify every slog, or even a decent spell. Just a couple of days ago, I saw comments like Martin's spell was one of the best ever on subcontinental pitches. Thankfully though, there are still few cricketers, who have great skills and a cricket aficionado would pay to watch them play. In my opinion, one such special cricketer is Srilanka's Slinga Malinga.
If I think about bowlers, I would say that unlike Donald or Warne, Malinga isn't a purists delight, he doesn't get the pulse racing like the Rawalpindi express would do and he is neither going to find a place among the pantheon of great bowlers as with the amount of stress he puts on his body would mean that he may not last long yet, for the unique brand of cricket he plays and his refreshing attitude makes him a special cricketer.
If not for anything else, his action itself makes him a special cricketer. I saw him bowl for the first time about five years ago and I almost fell off my chair as he had a very slingy side arm action. In the recent past, there have been bowlers with slingy actions, but none as slingy as Malinga.
Just like most kids would do in the serene and beautiful emerald Isle of Srilanka, he took up the game of cricket. He grew up playing cricket with a tennis ball on the sand beaches and coconut grooves of a river in his village. I think the key point to consider is, Malinga playing with a tennis ball. In subcontinent, playing cricket with a tennis ball is popular and quite a few fast bowlers including the great Younis grew up playing cricket with a tennis ball. Playing with a tennis ball would mean that a bowler has to bowl quick, otherwise he would disappear into the orbit. Playing with a tennis ball perhaps forced Malinga to bowl fast and develop a slingy action.
Over the years, I have found it very difficult to explain Malinga's action still I would give it a try! When he hits the crease, his hips would be side-on, but is able to straighten it. He almost releases the ball in front of a umpire's chest. I have sympathy for the batsmen who face him as it must be very hard to pick a bowler bowling at 140mph and with a side arm action like Malinga. In-fact, in a series in New Zealand, Fleming even told the umpires to change their uniform as they couldn't pick him! What makes Malinga really special is his ability to consistently bowl those toe-crushing yorkers. A bowler with his action would likely struggle for consistency, but the reality is at present there is none better than Malinga, when it comes to bowling yorkers.
Malinga at his best
Now, let us look at some of Malinga's devastating spells.
Srilanka v South Africa- The 2007 WC was the most boring of all the world cups I have watched, but our man Malinga was able to liven up the proceedings in the match against the Saffers. Malinga produced a great spell as he took four wickets in four deliveries with toe-crushing yorkers and well disguised slower deliveries. If not for our man, the match wouldn't have had its fair share of hitchcockian twists as the Saffers were cruising to a victory with plenty of wickets in hand, but suddenly they were shell shocked by Malinga's devastating spell and found themselves nine down. Yes, in the end, the Saffers won the match by just one wicket, but Malinga's toe-crushing yorker to Ntini would be etched in my memory.
India v Srilanka - Due to injury problems Malinga didn't play test cricket for sometime, but thankfully made a comeback to play in the test match against India at Galle. Malinga immediately made an impact by taking a five wicket haul and helped Lanka to win the test. He is said to have bowled just three deliveries and they were the yorker, the bouncer and the slower delivery but his pace, his unique action and his great control over all those three deliveries was too hot to handle for the Indian batsmen. I have always felt that experts think too much about his yorker and underrate the other weapon in his armour, the bouncer. A batsman may get away with a few bouncers against a normal bowler as few of them would be too high and the batsman can also sway from the line, but with Malinga having a very slingy action and him being hard to pick would make a batsman feel like he is living in hell.
Of course, one can also think of his devastating spells against England at home in 07/08, his match winning spell at Wellington in New Zealand in 06 and all those match winning spells in T/20 cricket.
Yes, Malinga is a tailender, but I really enjoyed the carefree spirit with which he played against the Ozzies a few days back at Melbourne. The Lankans were staring down the barrel, but Malinga used the long handle very well to help Lanka snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. What impressed me most was, even though the bowlers kept beating him and he almost got bowled on numerous occasions, Malinga still kept leaving all his three stumps and continued to play those agricultural hoicks.
I would like to say that Malinga isn't a special cricketer just for his skills as a bowler, but I have never seen him sledge. If a batsman gets beaten, he just gives a wry smile and goes back to his mark. It has made me call him the smiling assassin. I would also like to give credit to the Lankan system for not looking to tinker the game of unorthodox cricketers like Malinga. I am sure, if Malinga was born in Australia, England, or in the Safferland, he wouldn't have even played fc cricket. Yes, Malinga may not last long as the amount of stress he puts on his body may result in injuries which would shorten his career, but he is one of the few cricketers that I am willing to pay to watch on a cricket field.