Lasith Malinga has been Sri Lanka's most exciting limited-overs talent for a decade	Lasith Malinga has been Sri Lanka's most exciting limited-overs talent for a decade
Jun 15, 2017

Five times Malinga stole the show

Lasith Malinga, Sri Lanka's ace match-winner in global tournaments, may be about to bowl his final spells at an ICC event this week. ESPNcricinfo remembers five of his best big-tournament performances

Four in four in Guyana

Where Lasith Malinga had been something of a Sri Lankan secret until then, this was the moment his searing yorkers sneaked beneath the bat of world cricket's collective consciousness, and bowled it over. For the next seven years, a multitude of toes would line up to be crushed, cartloads of stumps would be splayed, and stadiums would be filled with blonde-tipped wig-wearing acolytes of Malinga's round-arm heresy.

The match was basically already lost. South Africa needed 10 runs off six overs, with five wickets in the tank. Mahela Jayawardene tossed the ball to Malinga and told him: "We're buried here unless you do something." So he did. He rolled his fingers over the fifth ball of his sixth over of the day, and the slower ball - which in those days, was still 136kph - wangled its way past Shaun Pollock's bat. Andrew Hall was then tricked into lobbing up a catch next ball, off another slower one.

At the start of the following over, Malinga had returned to the fast stuff. Jacques Kallis, perhaps wanting to cover the ball that had been swinging in to the right hander, drove too far inside the line, and sent an outside edge through to the keeper. Makhaya Ntini was almost just a prop in the Malinga show. The ball seemed to phase through him and into the middle stump. South Africa would go on to win the game, thanks to a fortunate edge to third man, but not before Malinga threatened the wickets a couple more times. One ball had whistled by so close to the woodwork, "If only the stumps had hair" an observer had remarked.

Hushing the Wankhede

In the early years of the IPL, no foreign player inspired as much devotion from a section of Indian fans, as Malinga. His spells at the death had acquired a legendary status, and in home games, would be delivered to stadium-wide cries of "Ma-li-nga".

But on April 2, 2011, when Sri Lanka had come to town to contest the World Cup final, there was no adulation for him. The Wankhede was not Malinga's crowd that day. Trapping Virender Sehwag in front of the stumps second ball, Malinga let out a roar as silence filled the stadium. A few overs later, he took the outside edge of Mumbai's favourite son - Sachin Tendulkar - and sprinted full tilt, arms spread, from the bowling crease to square leg, wildly, hysterically joyful.

Despite the quality of Malinga's opening spell, Sri Lanka, of course, could not capitalise. MS Dhoni would go on to provide that evening's most memorable moment.

The Pallekele demolition

England may have been reigning World T20 champions, but Sri Lanka were favourites for this particular tournament, and in the back hills of Kandy that evening, Malinga was king.

On display were virtually all of Malinga's weapons, which at this stage of his career, constituted a veritable arsenal. He got Luke Wright with a ball that pitched on short-of-a-length and left the right hander slightly - one of his favoured new-ball deliveries at the time. The next victim was Jonny Bairstow, who didn't spot the slower ball, and whacked it almost into the stratosphere, but could get no distance on the shot - the ball eventually caught at mid off. Next ball, Alex Hales was duped by another slower one, which struck his pad in front of the stumps.

While those three early wickets could be attributed to Malinga's wit, it was pure ability that brought the next two. Jos Buttler could not control a menacing bouncer in Malinga's second spell, and sent a catch to long leg. And seeing Samit Patel back away to make room, Malinga took aim at the off stump and sent it cartwheeling with a fast full toss. That 5 for 31 remains his best return in T20 internationals.

Dipping in Cardiff

When Sri Lanka made only 138 in their innings, it seemed almost inconceivable New Zealand would be put under any sort of strain, but thanks largely to Malinga, the match would turn out to be a thriller. New Zealand had not, at the time, had a great record against Malinga, and that would continue, for one more game at least.

This time it was his pace that they struggled to parse. In the ninth over, Kane Williamson actually attempted to duck a ball that wound up hitting him on the thigh, in front of the stumps. Eleven overs later, another slower ball had Daniel Vettori lbw. Then the McCullum brothers were removed in the space of three Malinga deliveries, Brendon playing too early at another slower ball, which took out his off stump, before Nathan was nailed in front of the wickets with a searing, swinging fast one.

Had Sri Lanka conserved their review to overturn a not out decision when Malinga hit Southee in front of the stumps in the 34th over, they might even have gone on to win the match. Instead New Zealand survived Malinga's final bursts to limp home with a wicket to spare.

Full and wide in Mirpur

Figures of no wickets for 27 may not sound like much, but make no mistake, the 2014 World T20 final was one of Malinga's finest cricketing moments. Though sometimes criticised at home for the eagerness with which he turns up at each IPL, Malinga's riposte, on this occasion, was to harness the knowledge he had gained in five IPL seasons for Sri Lanka's benefit. Having been made captain mid-way through this campaign, Malinga had been instrumental in devising the bowling plan that muzzled India's batsmen.

The thinking was this: few India batsmen played the scoop or lap scoop, and relied instead on more traditional cricketing strokes for their death-over runs. As a result, Malinga contended, Sri Lanka would be well-served by the yorker landed about half-a-metre outside off stump - too wide for the likes of Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni to whip through leg, but not quite wide enough to flay through a packed offside. While Malinga himself was virtually inch-perfect in the execution of this plan, Nuwan Kulasekara went a little wider than his partner, but was nevertheless successful.

Much was said about Yuvraj Singh's tortured innings in that game, but even when MS Dhoni joined a well-set Virat Kohli at the crease, the two men could muster no more than 11 runs off the final 11 balls of the innings.

And perhaps the most incredible thing about that plan of attack was that it was so unlike Malinga. He was a bowler seemingly defined by his uniqueness and his blockbuster spells. But it was this humdrum, low-octane strategy that delivered him the greatest prize of his career. Malinga didn't blast India out; he outwitted them.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

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