Evergreen Malinga still has mindset and mastery of a bowling genius
At 35, the Sri Lanka fast bowler is drawing heavily on the intelligence that makes him formidable foe
Lasith Malinga is a bowling genius. Even though he is 35 and not in the best of physical shape these days, he can still produce magical performances like yesterday’s because he is such a smart, thinking cricketer. It is very hard to replicate facing Malinga because he is unique. You have to expect the ball to come from out of the umpire’s chest. In the nets you can place the bowling machine over the top of middle stump from the far end to train the eyes for the angle, but that is about it.
However, it is not the angle that causes most problems; it is the fact that he is a very intelligent bowler who knows when to use his yorker and slower balls. We have not given him enough credit for that down the years. When facing his dipping slower ball you think it is knee or waist-height, but it dips because he puts so much over-spin on the ball.
It is so hard to face when you start your innings, which is why he takes wickets in bursts. He is at his most threatening when the opposition are looking to attack and hit him in the final overs. Batsmen are premeditating shots, so he asks himself: “What is the batsman trying to do?” He then bowls the ball they least expect. That takes intelligence.
The best time to face him is with the new ball. He swings the new ball away from the right-hander and you feel that you can hit him for a few boundaries. But when he comes back on later in the innings, that dipping slower ball is very hard to face.
His point of release is about five feet off the ground. Most quick bowlers are more than 6ft tall and deliver the ball from the top of their action. When the ball hits the pitch, they give you a chance to get under it: you have leverage to play with. But Malinga does not do that. The slower ball that pitches up goes up, then dips down because of the revolutions he gets on the ball, which makes it very hard to get underneath it. He is great to watch, much less appetising to face.
It has been an interesting week for cricket. Away from Sri Lanka, in the United Arab Emirates, Australia showed the first stirrings of recovery after the ball-tampering scandal.
Drawing a game they were dead set to lose after the first innings against Pakistan was a remarkable fightback and will do wonders for the captaincy of Tim Paine. The real test of a team is how they react in a dire situation, and Paine will have learnt a lot about his players this week. Such situations test your inner strength, spirit and togetherness. To survive those difficult moments and come out the other side matures your team.
Early in my captaincy we toured Sri Lanka and saved two Test matches. We batted for 108 overs for a draw in Galle and then 140 to save the next match in Kandy, batting on the final day against Muttiah Muralitharan.
Those results brought us together and while you always play to win, drawing games after a poor start with lots of questions about your technique against the turning ball can lift you more than an easy victory.
It was a huge boost for Paine, who was already facing questions about his leadership. Not many captains have taken over in such difficult circumstances. Normally they are groomed for the job for years. He was thrust into the position, having only just regained his place after years out of the side, almost retiring from cricket.
It was also important that Paine was out in the middle at the end. When you are leading a team it is all right saying the right things in the dressing room, giving the team direction, but sometimes you have to do it yourself.
As a former captain looking at his team from the outside, he appears to be a decent guy and you want those sort of people to have success when taking on such a big challenge.
He made the right calls in selection, bringing back Peter Siddle and opening with Usman Khawaja, who batted 524 minutes to produce a game-saving century. Siddle was a surprise pick but he gives a captain control, which is what Paine needs at the moment.
I have always felt Khawaja could be an opener for Australia. You back him in Australian conditions, but his problem has always been against spin in Asia. It played on his mind.
He used his bat a bit more, moved his front foot out of the way and it probably helped that his coach, Justin Langer, was a left-hander too, because he went through similar problems. Khawaja gets criticised because he is so laid back, a bit like David Gower. But Australia have to stick with him because he has a great game that can go around the world. Langer has toughened him up and told him to trust himself to make big scores opening the batting.
If Aaron Finch can be a Test player as well, Steve Smith comes back into the mix and Shaun Marsh can find some consistency, then don’t rule the Australians out of the Ashes series just yet. I said at the end of the last Ashes that Australia were a lot closer to winning in England than we are to winning in Australia, and I still stand by that statement.
‘It is hard to replicate facing him because he is unique. We’ve not given him enough credit’
On the ball: England’s one-day batsmen will have to learn fast against the unique style of Lasith Malinga