As mentioned here several thousand times, the 2007 World Cup was my first exposure to cricket, and the 2007 final was the first cricket match I ever watched live. And that is probably why my first favorite cricketer was Sri Lanka’s Lasith Malinga.
When I first stumbled upon cricket, videos on Youtube of match highlights were a little hard to find. But I did manage to come across a Malinga highlight reel, and I was blown away. He didn’t keep his arm vertical like I had seen all other bowlers do, but dropped his armed to his side while still somehow keeping his elbow straight and flung the ball in like a sidearm baseball pitcher. Sidearm pitchers were always my favorite growing up. Dan Quisenberry stands out as the the most famous of the lot. And so it would logically follow that Malinga would be a favorite of mine.
And I watched him bowl during the 2007 final live and even though he struggled in that match — his figures of 8-1-49-2 were not his best but he was still Sri Lanka’s best bowler on the day — even though he struggled, he still entertained, steaming in with that stutter step, the ball twisting out of his hand, his mop of hair. He entertained. Which is all a neutral can ever ask of a player.
Injuries shortened his career, and over the years he became one of the first franchise T20 specialists, having a fantastic career with the Mumbai Indians. But no matter what or where or with whom he was playing — and even when his gut started to sag over his belt and his pace decreased — he was still fun to watch. And he still sent a ripple through the crowd when he was given the ball for a session. No matter what, he is one of those guys that gets you excited the second you see the captain toss him the ball. With Malinga, magic could strike at any moment.
Today he played his final one day international for Sri Lanka. Fittingly, he took three Bangladeshi wickets as Sri Lanka cruised to victory by 91 runs. A great end to a great international career.
Presumably, he will continue to thrill under the lights in the IPL for at least a couple more seasons, but never again will we see him the Lankan blue. Another ending. Another cricketer that I cut my teeth on gone from international cricket. Another 12 years in the blink of an eye. 225 ODIs, 338 ODI wickets. A remarkable run for a kid born in the coastal village of Rathgama whose dad was a bus mechanic.
According to Malinga himself, his sidearm action developed because he grew up playing cricket with a tennis ball on the sand banks and in the coconut groves hear his home. He was spotted by Champaka Ramanayake and found his way, somehow, into the system, where his sidearm action was frowned upon. The system tried and failed to get him to bowl in a more conventional style. And then the rest is history. There’s a lesson here. Or maybe a few of them. How many artists of cricket are there like Malinga? Slinging tennis balls on beaches? More than one. Probably several. Maybe dozens. And how many of them will be lucky enough to get spotted, find their way into the system and be allowed to create as they know best? One? Maybe two? Malinga came along and entertained the whole world for 14 years. But he easily could have been missed, left to toil forever on beaches, never once playing a game of hard ball cricket in his life. What a shame that would have been. What a darker world. And how bright would the world be if we were able to find all our artists, and give them the chance to shine their light on all of us?
The lesson here is we should never stop looking, never stop seeking out artists, and when we find them, let them work their magic they way they want to work it.
Happy trails, Lasith. You were a miracle and a joy.