Kolkata: Lasith Malinga, during his playing days, was perhaps the closest to the model T20 seam bowler. The iconic character of Sri Lankan cricket, as famous for his toe-crushing yorkers as his funky haird-do, had been the highest wicket-taker in the history of Indian Premier League even two years after his retirement from all forms of the game (170 wickets with an economy rate of 7.14) till he was overtaken by Dwayne Bravo in the ongoing season.
After serving as one of the main architects of Mumbai Indians’ incredible success story in the league, the 38-year-old has agreed to pass on the tricks of his trade to the pace bowling unit of Rajasthan Royals this season - and is enjoying his new role to the hilt. The sight of Kumar Sangakkara and Malinga at their dugout - the former being their Director of Cricket - is a throwback to the glory days of the Islanders not so long ago.
‘‘We have played together for long and Sanga understands what I can offer and this is the first time that I have taken up a fulltime coaching role and enjoying it. I had played a kind of mentoring role with the pace bowlers during my long stay with Mumbai anyway,’’ said ‘Slinga Malinga,’ as he is nicknamed for his inimitable sling arm action.
Royals, who have assembled one of the most well-balanced teams in February’s auction with an aim to shed their under-achievers’ tag for several seasons, have made a promising start to their campaign in IPL 2022 with three wins out of five matches so far. Their pace attack, led by Trent Boult and Prasidh Krishna and backed up by the likes of Navdeep Saini and Kuldeep Sen, is an extremely competent one - a much-needed aspect since the ‘Pink Army’ had been found wanting in recent past by leaking runs at the death or failing to defend even good totals.
This is where Malinga, captain of Sri Lanka’s lone T20 World Cup triumph in 2014, is currently working on. Speaking to Gulf News during an exclusive interview from Mumbai, Malinga said: ‘‘Our seam attack is in very good hands and I am still amazed by Boult’s delivery which got a batsman like K.L.Rahul the other day. The idea of the New Zealander coming round the wicket to bring in the ball into the right hander worked as his execution was too good. The younger bowlers in the team can learn a lot by watching him.’’
A master of the toe-crushers and the slower deliveries during his playing days, Malinga broke down the craft that any pace bowler should be aim to acquire in white ball cricket. ‘‘At the end of the day, they are bowling to a right handed batsman or a left handed one and not at their reputation and need to alter their line and length accordingly. Irrespective of the format, the bowler needs to have control of at least three options to play competitive cricket - a wicket-taking delivery, a stock ball to stop the boundaries and a length delivery. Bowling becomes easy when you know your strengths,’’ Malinga said.
The exponent of death overs bowling, however, agrees that they have to increase the repertoire to keep the batsmen away from hitting boundaries in T20s. ‘‘There are wide yorkers, wide slower balls, both varieties on the stumps as well as different bouncers. The bowler should try to analyse the weaknesses of the batsmen but also not overthink,’’ he said.
In a long though somewhat chequered career, Malinga has had several high points - from lifting the slick winners’ trophy of World T20 in Dhaka to being a member of the Mumbai Indians team in four of their five title-triumphs. Asked which one he would cherish the most, Malinga selected two of them: “Holding the World Cup in my hands as a skipper was a huge moment in my career. However, I also cannot forget the last delivery in the 2019 IPL final which we won by one run. It was the last IPL match of my career.’’
The conversation eventually boiled down to the economic turmoil that Sri Lanka currently find themselves in - something which has prompted strong reaction from most of their cricketing legends. Malinga said: ‘‘It’s a financial struggle and people’s fight is extremely reasonable. I hope the situation will ease in the next couple of months but my only plea is people should respect the forces for they are working really hard.’’