“The kiss of the ball. The queer action. The late movement. The pin-point yorker. The batsman in all sorts of trouble”
He came, he saw, he conquered… Fairytales and adages are often built up to narrate an incomplete chronicle. Days of struggle, moments of glory, an ending worthy of praise. The highest pinnacle reached; the summit scalped; the zenith within grasp. The perfect ending.
Any young individual aiming towards his aspiration looks ahead to the tallest possible achievement. He builds his life towards his goal, sacrificing small joys in pursuit of the eternal passion. The stage that he has always dreamt of; the platform that he has always wanted to stand upon. The world looking up at him in envy; he in turn staring down at them in a dazed confusion.
The bulls-eye has been breached; life’s ambitions have been surpassed. Where thereon? Keep going farther and farther or walk away into the horizon with an unparalleled joy scripted across your face? With life teaching us that the lows are an inevitable cycle, a step forward from the desired laurels could negate all the hardwork that has been pitched in. An exit at the peak could fill lives with a remorseful regret. ‘What if?’… a question that will never really escape minds.
This dilemma is often wrapped around each sportsman who sets forth with a level in mind. The spot he wants to be at in specific years. State team, national side, a regular player, a match winner, a World Cup triumphant member. Yet, often, the journey is obstructed by boulders, in the form of waning fitness and form, and though he has enjoyed his time out in the sun, he is a hapless victim to the vagaries of time. But he yearns for that final push. The runs are not being scored, the wickets are hard to come by. The dedication to ascend towards his top glory is at an all-time high but it seems even tougher than ever.
He came, he saw, he conquered, he was in a dilemma, he struggled with form, he yearned for the top-spot yet again. He either walks away as a hero or a struggling cricketer. Fairytales and adages often do not reveal the harshest truths.
Malinga’s rise and rise… fall and rise again
The curly-haired burly-built Sri Lankan cricketer with a strange action that helped him emerge as the yorker-master could very well be Lasith Malinga’s epitaph. A cricketer who started a fashion fiesta in the stands with coloured curls that epitomized his colourful career could be a humorous take on his journey. The bowler who was bashed around by Virat Kohli in the Commonwealth Bank Series in 2012 would be a legacy most Indians would remember him by.
However, a majority would agree that Slinga-Malinga was one of the toughest bowlers ever to emerge in the early part of this decade. Much before ‘Chocolate Krushers’ gained prominence, the Sri Lankan’s toe-crushers gained a cult following. He was feared, he was respected. The rivals disliked his success; the rivals envied his success. He was a contradiction; one who never failed to call his Sports Minister a monkey when he questioned his fielding standards but also one who was the first person up to the batsman to congratulate him for a knock well-played. Even if he was the cricketer who had been smashed all over.
His four-ball four-wicket achievement in the 2007 World Cup against South Africa was one of the most joyful moments for an Asian in the competition. With India and Pakistan kicked out early, and with the latter’s coach being found dead during the tourney, the super humane bowling against one of the most dangerous sides made Malinga a hero three years after his international debut.
As the years rolled on and as the aura of the Sangakkaras and Jayawardenes found an irreplaceable spot in international cricket, Malinga held his own with consistent pace, bounce and skill. Cramping the batsman up for room, Malinga found victory against the very best. Soon, he himself was regarded in the same league as his contemporaries and though he never reached the standards of Glenn McGrath or Dale Steyn due to his 30-match Test career, in ODIs and LOIs, where saving runs were the main criteria, Malinga flourished.
However, as the norm goes, consistency has to be replaced by sporadic bowling displays, till a time arrives when the younger crop of players have reached the maturity to kick out the established ones. Struggling in all aspects – he did not play a single ODI in 2016 and picked 20 wickets in 13 games a year before, Malinga was unceremoniously ousted from the scheme of things. He did make a quiet comeback for the Champions Trophy last year, picking up 3 wickets in the tournament, which allowed him to play the series against Zimbabwe and India that followed the event in England.
4 wickets against the African nation and just 3 versus India meant that he was dropped yet again, and the unanimous consensus was that he was well past his prime. At 35, Malinga did not have age with him and with cricket demanding fresher legs, the inevitable end loomed largely.
Except that it wasn’t. Eager to silence the critics and to show the world his technical superiority, the quick went back to playing domestic cricket after the selectors had made it clear that a player seeking to play for the country had to start at the grass-root level again. Sans complaints or without any ego tussles, the player turned up for his side Kandy and looked like the old Malinga that we had grown so accustomed to.
The kiss of the ball. The queer action. The late movement. The pin-point yorker. The batsman in all sorts of trouble. Two wickets in an over in his first international game in over 12 months. Four wickets in his first match after comeback. 5 wickets a few games later. It seems that Malinga had never vanished into the oblivion; that the dip had never really occurred. He was conquering then, he is conquering now and he hopes to do the same in the World Cup a few months from now.