There's York, And Then There's Lasith Malinga York > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - There are yorkers, and then there are Lasith Malinga yorkers
Nowadays the argument against the straight yorker is as strong as the argument for it.
Given the way modern batting has evolved, the blockhole no longer offers sanctuary, with the ramp shot allowing players to find boundaries off a previously unhittable delivery. Even the low full toss, normally tough to get under, can be forced into gaps with stronger, pliable wrists. The player often sighted as the best exponent of both is Jos Buttler.
Coming into this match with Sri Lanka, England's most dynamic ODI batsman had faced 3091 balls and been dismissed just twice from yorkers. But there are yorkers and then there are Lasith Malinga yorkers. And nine balls into his innings, Buttler found that out. Or rather, it was reconfirmed.
"He is just different," said Buttler after the game. "And as much as you do face him (over the years), he is different." Therein lies the issue: Malinga has been around for 15 years and for at least 12 of those he has been a known quantity. Even Buttler, who indulges in the game more than most would assume and is as balanced at the crease as Malinga is unbalanced at the dining table, was powerless to stop his head falling to the off side, as a sharp, dipping toe-finder pinned his left foot flush and in line with leg stump. Make that three dismissals from yorkers.
Malinga arrived on the scene in 2004, when video analysis was starting to really come into play. Early on, a theory arose that the best way to combat him was to look at the umpire's hat and wait for the ball to appear in front of it. Coaches have tried to mimic his action, with most generally opting to throw from above the non-striker's stumps to replicate the angle if not the slingy, stone-skimming whip.
There have even been investigations by manufacturers of bowling machines, such as UK based company Bola, to see if they can create a product to prepare batsmen for the Sri Lankan's unique threat.
One of their recent innovations has involved using the outline of bowlers on a video screen to visualise their approach to the crease before the ball is shot out. But after much deliberation, it was scrapped: not only would the screen be too big to display Malinga's wingspan at the point of delivery but the machine would have to be tailored to such an extent that it would only be useful for replicating his action and no one else's. In hindsight, maybe the ECB should have stumped up the considerable outlay.
Make no mistake - this is not the Malinga of old. The blonde streaks in his hair are not as bright, and the bounce of his curls not quite so springy. The spare tyre stored in his midriff could do with a little less air, weighing him down to a shuffle. Naturally, his pace has dropped. Despite all this, he is still as effective as ever.
Even the chanting of his name has slowed almost to a Deep South drawl and on Friday, the pockets of Sri Lanka fans at Headingley maintained a slow and steady "MAAAAAAA-LING-AAAAAAA" throughout England's pursuit of Sri Lanka's lowly 232.
There was a time when Malinga fuelled the chant. But as he stood at the top of his mark to first open the innings and remove Jonny Bairstow and James Vince, then returned with the game in the balance to see off Joe Root and Buttler, there was a sense the crowd were doing the lifting. For the longest time, Malinga has been the one taking Sri Lanka to heights above their station.
If you have a heart of stone, you could ask how it has come to be that a system that churns out so many promising youngsters is still so do-or-die on the output of a 36-year-old who has seen better days. It's a question you're right to ask. And really, romanticism is not really an intangible at play in Sri Lankan cricket because of the number of administrators over the years who have chipped away at Sri Lankan cricket to make a quick buck and settle a few private school scores.
And while his four wickets took him to 51 World Cup dismissals in just 26 matches, into fourth on the tournament charts with Glenn McGrath (71), Muttiah Muralitharan (68) and Wasim Akram (55) - bowling's Mount Rushmore - Malinga has approached his work with no ego or arrogance.
He could absolutely be fitter, but has challenged himself over the last 18 months to ensure his physique was no excuse for poor performance. He burned the candle at both ends during the Indian Premier League, a Mumbai Indian one day and, a flight later, turning out for Galle District in the Super Four Provincial tournament. It was a mandatory competition for anyone with ambitions to make the World Cup squad and Malinga at no point saw himself above this process even if he might have been. Do you reckon Tom Cruise still auditions for Mission Impossible films?
After the defeat to Australia last Saturday at the Oval, Malinga flew back home for the second time this World Cup after the passing of his mother-in-law. His captain Dimuth Karunatne told Malinga he was welcome to spend as much time as he would like at home. After two days, Malinga returned to England, blew out the air miles in his joints with a spell of bowling on the eve of the match before rocking up and dragging Sri Lanka to their second win of the tournament with 4 for 43 against a team who expect to be in the shake-up to win the whole damn thing.
This was their fourth win against England in World Cup play, and their third in a row. But this is perhaps the most important given the context of both sides in those previous encounters. This is a different England side for better and a different Sri Lanka side for worse. Without Malinga this was just simply a game they could not win. And for that reason, this result, even if it leads to nothing, with be etched into Malinga's legacy.
"Mali's been around for a long time," said Eoin Morgan. "Coming in and bowling like that isn't surprising at all."
Maybe this is too rosy-eyed, but there felt something significant, almost knowing that Morgan referred to him as "Mali". All Sri Lanka greats have a nickname, or at least a single-word, "Madonna"-style alias that triggers a particular trademark shot or delivery along with a thousand memories. But for so long that particular moniker has only been used by affectionate teammates rather than scholars of the game. Perhaps it's time they adopt it, too.
In many ways, Mali is the finest representation of Sri Lankan cricket - more so than Arjuna, Kumar, Mahela or Murali. A homespun cricketer forged from nothing but a love of the game and his environment: a product of the beaches of Rathgama who was encouraged to embrace what made him different and urged to fight against the predominantly western notion that he, like Murali before him, was more suited to a circus. A master tactician who has worked over the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Kevin Pietersen and, on Friday (June 21), Jos Buttler. "A legend," as Dimuth Karunaratne put simply.
Sri Lanka now sit in fifth in the World Cup group with six points and requiring other results need to go their way even if they win their remaining three fixtures. Of course, this 20-run shock win over the hosts will put South Africa, West Indies and India on alert that Malinga is coming. Then again, they've known that for more than a decade. It still hasn't helped.
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