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Cricket news - The magnificence of Malinga

The first ODI against Bangladesh will bring an end to Malinga's illustrious 15-year run in the 50-over format.

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The placard above the ticket counter at the gate of Premadasa Stadium says it all. This is not just another match for the crowd. It's a farewell game for the last representative of the golden generation. It's a chance to bid goodbye to Lasith Malinga.

Sri Lanka are going through a longish transition phase since the departure of Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan - the trio that formed the backbone of the batting unit. And while they were at it, the bowling attack in the shorter formats was led by none other than Malinga, who's now decided to make way for younger players. His retirement after the first Bangladesh ODI will mark the end of an illustrious 15-year journey in the 50-over format.

"I spoke to him and said to him to play three ODIs and finish it off with the series, but he said he wants to play one game in Sri Lanka and wants to give chances to the youngsters," Sri Lankan skipper Dimuth Karunaratne said on Thursday (July 25), at the pre-series press conference that largely revolved around Malinga and the vacuum that awaits Sri Lanka.

''After all, he is a legend and he has done a really good job for Sri Lankan cricket. At some time, they have to leave, you know. When Mahela and Sanga left, we had to do some rebuilding to our side. Find the players to fill in their shoes. In Malinga's retirement, we are trying to find another replacement to fill his shoes. For seniors like Nuwan Pradeep and Thisara Perara, they know how to take the responsibilities that Malinga did the last few years. And I hope they will take the responsibility and will do a very good job for the next two ODIs,'' he said.

As much as Sri Lanka's rebuilding phase is talked about, it's worth mentioning that Malinga's retirement will stack up further challenges, impeding their return to mainstream form on the international stage. Karunaratne talks about handing the ball to Malinga and staying put, knowing some magic is round the corner. And didn't Malinga deliver more often than not?

It's only obvious that Sri Lanka want to farewell Malinga with a win, something which has evaded them in bulk in the recent while. "The best thing we can give is winning the match and that's what we are planning. Other than that we have discussed few things in the dressing room. But mainly we want to focus on winning the match. That's the best thing we can do for him.

''The main thing is when I gave him the ball he always picked up the wickets. He is a wicket-taking bowler. He took a lot of wickets in the World Cup too. After he retires, I think we need to find a bowler who can find wickets in the middle parts. But now we have Akila, I think he will bowl really well like the last time. So, that's why we will miss Lasith more because he always raised his hands up and did the job for us every time I gave him the ball,'' he said.

Malinga, known for his trademark blond-highlighted mop and piercings, was sidelined by selectors two years ago but he came roaring back, proving his value at the recently-concluded World Cup in England and Wales. Malinga was Sri Lanka's highest wicket-taker at the event, claiming 13 wickets in seven innings.

His trademark yorker and his bowling action remained a focal point of his career that saw him end the journey as the third-highest wicket-taker in ODI cricket. With a game to go, Malinga has 335 wickets in 219 innings since his first ODI against the United Arab Emirates in 2004.

Only Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas have taken more wickets than him but what stood him apart from others was his charm. ''He is a great ambassador of cricket. I think he is a cricketer whom a lot of little players saw him play," Tamim Iqbal said. "He is that type of cricketer. Not only in Sri Lanka but in the whole world. I remember when he first came to play, especially against Bangladesh, people wanted to bowl like him. Even when we came to play in Sri Lanka, we looked for bowlers in the nets who bowl like him. He had this type of impact in the cricketing world."

ODI cricket will be poorer with the departure of Malinga but there's hope that the world will see more of him. Malinga has made public his burning desire to play in the T20 WC next year. And so we watch him in Colombo and we all wait.

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