Lasith Malinga
Mumbai Indians bowler Lasith Malinga celebrating after win over Chennai Super Kings (CSK) at the Indian Premier League 2019 final at Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad, on Sunday, May 12, 2019. Image Credit: PTI

Abu Dhabi: Mumbai Indians’ third title win over Chennai Super Kings and fourth in the 12th Indian Premier League (IPL) deciders had the perfect script of a Bollywood blockbuster movie.

Not once did Mumbai Indians panic in the intense final under the statesmanship of Rohit Sharma and more importantly, the ‘khadoos’ (stubborn) character of Mumbaikars came to the fore in the pulsating finale.

“We don’t rely on individuals, it’s always a collective team effort,” said an elated captain Sharma, who also led the team in all their previous title wins in 2013, 2015 and 2017.

M.S. Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings was clearly on the brink of defending their title after veteran Australian Shane Watson, who smashed an unbeaten century in the finals of the 2018 edition against Sunrisers Hyderabad, led from the front with a belligerent 80 off 59 balls.

But the ice-cool Lankan veteran pacer Lasith Malinga, whom Watson smashed for four boundaries in five balls and leaked 42 runs in three overs, showed his class in the final over to take Mumbai home by one run in the last ball thriller.

The final over was clearly a make-or-break moment for the afro-haired pacer Malinga, roped back into the side after being a mentor last season following a recurring knee injury. The odds were clearly stacked against him to defend those mere nine runs in the last over. On the field too, Malinga had been sloppy and dropped Watson on 31 at short fine leg.

But the original death-bowling specialist was still the go-to man after Jasprit Bumrah had done his part to keep Mumbai in the game with his control, swing and immaculate variations. Instead of a fast toe crushing yorker, Malinga dished out a slower dipping delivery but it proved to be equally effective. Shardul Thakur couldn’t dodge that bullet and was trapped right in front.

At a time when Sri Lanka is still reeling under the fallout of the Easter bombings by militants, Malinga’s performance was like a breath of fresh air and would have given the people back home something to cheer.

The Sri Lankan squad selected to the forthcoming ICC World Cup clearly lacks the depth to test the best in English conditions, but this stellar performance from Malinga would have given them a lot of hope.

Can the 35-year-old, clearly in the twilight of his career, keep the same intensity in the 50-over format? It is still a big question, but for now he has played his part phenomenally well and garnered world praise. It was a reassurance that he is still not over the hill. Not yet.

His fighting qualities and will to silence his critics was also evident when he flew down in the middle of the IPL to play in the Inter Provincial Tournament. The magical spell, picking up seven wickets for Galle against Kandy, spoke volumes of Malinga’s commitment and it allowed him to cement his place in the World Cup squad.

After being carried around the ground on the shoulders by the big hitting West Indian Kieron Pollard, a beaming Malinga said: “If I give (even) one run, the match would’ve been equal, if I get a wicket, we get a win. I wanted to go for the match-win and I opted for my wicket-taking option, today it was a success.”

Skipper Sharma hailed Malinga’s performance and was of the view that he wanted to back the latter’s experience as he had been in tight situations before.

“Malinga has been in that situation a million times, bowling those last overs, defending five runs, ten runs, whatever it is. So we backed him to do that.

“He has been one of the finest T20 players that we’ve seen. For Mumbai, he’s done it for so many years, so we knew that he could give us a chance of winning the game.”

As celebrations continue in Mumbai, a much anticipated wait also follows to see the world’s greatest sling arm bowler in action again for one last time as he sets sights on the ICC World Cup competition.