He crushes toes... and confidence too

“I don’t think about the situation or who is batting or whatever… I just give my best,” says Lasith Malinga in an exclusive chat.

“After the World Cup, I plan to play a little more before ending my ODI career,” says Lasith Malinga.   -  Reuters

It’s a bright and sunny afternoon at the picturesque Riverside Ground in Chester-le-Street. The Sri Lankan team had just reached the stadium for a training session ahead of its World Cup league fixture against the West Indies.

Far away in Birmingham, India was playing England and most of the Lankan players have an eye on the television. A win for India would keep Sri Lanka alive in the race for the semifinals. Chasing a 300-plus total, India loses K. L. Rahul early, and a bunch of Lankan cricketers — clearly disappointed — come out of the dressing room and hit the ground for some warm-up. (India lost to England, which meant Sri Lanka failed to reach the knock-out stage of the World Cup for the first time since 1999.)

After a few minutes, you see a familiar face stepping into the ground. There he is — Lasith Malinga!

At a time when most of his contemporaries have either called it a day or are contemplating retirement, Malinga continues to spearhead the Lankan pace bowling attack. At 35, he is hungry for more success. Contrary to speculations and reports, he wants to play for another year or two for the national team.

Before hitting the nets, the pace ace walks up to Sportstar and says with a smile, “You have got questions, huh? Shoot…”

And, we get going….

Malinga celebrates after dismissing England’s Jos Buttler in a World Cup group game. The pacer’s four-wicket haul helped Sri Lanka upset the host.   -  Reuters

You have had a memorable outing in the World Cup. How would you rate it?

I am happy to play for the national team, especially since this is my last World Cup. I really enjoyed it. There is a good (camaraderie) between the senior and young players. I don’t take any pressure; try to stay relaxed and play my natural game.

Your four-wicket haul against England helped Sri Lanka bounce back in the tournament. Having featured in so many international games, what do you do in a pressure situation?

I don’t talk about pressure. As a bowler, you need to realise the situation and know what you have to do. I always trust my skill and back it up with my confidence. So, there’s no pressure. I don’t think about the situation or who is batting or whatever… I just give my best and I want to enhance my skills. With such an approach, you get results on most of the days, but sometimes you don’t succeed. That’s part of cricket.

Could you tell us a bit about the art of bowling yorkers?

The art of bowling yorkers is to train hard. Whoever wants to bowl consistent yorkers and develop confidence needs to undergo rigorous and longer training sessions. To learn to bowl yorkers, you have to keep trying at the nets. Most of the time the bowlers tend to mix a yorker with a slower delivery. If one needs to be accurate, then consistency is a must. You have to keep bowling until you master it. That’s a challenge, but trust me, that’s the only way to go about it.

If one has to learn the basics of yorkers, he has to put in extra hours after the training session — when the body is tired. Only then he can prepare mentally and physically. That helps him better.

But won’t that lead to fatigue and also affect the mental space?

You need to do that for variation. That will prepare a bowler for match situations, especially the death overs. By the time it’s the 40th over, bowlers are already tired after fielding. The muscles tend to give up. But even then, you have to consistently bowl yorkers. So, how do you do that if you don’t prepare yourself accordingly? The best thing is: after the training session, get a single wicket and bowl 18-20 deliveries daily, and you can gain some confidence. To perfect something, you have to put in the hard work — be it yorkers or the slower deliveries.

“When I met ‘Boom’ for the first time in 2013, he was a young kid. He was always willing to learn and was extremely committed to the game,” says Malinga of Jasprit Bumrah.   -  Vivek Bendre


The batsmen often alter their stance and tend to play outside the crease. As a bowler, how do you react to those situations?

The batsmen know the strength of the bowlers and plan accordingly. But, as a bowler you need to analyse every situation, figure out how many runs the opponents need while chasing — it might be 10 runs or six runs in an over — so, accordingly, you have to plan your strategy. The bowlers always need to have two plans of action ready and set up the field. In case Plan A doesn’t work, he needs to resort to Plan B. It has to be done quickly. You need to have clarity of thoughts, and be absolutely sure about the field placement. There is not much time to react, so everything has to be planned well. Before a match, we normally watch the videos and analyse them. For a young bowler, it is a must to analyse the moments and remember that in a crunch situation. At times, under pressure, bowlers forget to execute those learnings. You have to remember them…

Is that something you taught Jasprit Bumrah as well? The young Indian pacer has time and again admitted that you have helped him immensely at Mumbai Indians…

When I met ‘Boom’ for the first time in 2013, he was a young kid. He had pace, but the only thing lacking was accuracy. But he was always willing to learn and was extremely committed to the game. He soon realised that in T20s, only skilful players can survive. He learned everything quickly — be it the slower ball, in-swinger or out-swinger. He has that confidence and that’s why he is No. 1 now. I don’t think he has any pressure. That’s why he can deliver six yorkers and one slow ball at ease. I hope in the next one year he improves on how to analyse a game. Then, nobody can beat him. Trust me on that.

Who are the best fast bowlers now?

Boom is No. 1. And of course, Kagiso Rabada. Jofra Archer is coming up well. In another two-three years, he will be in the top-three list.

“I feel he is a good bowler who is extremely accurate and has an attacking approach,” says Malinga of South African speedster Kagiso Rabada.   -  Reuters


Rabada did not have a good outing in the World Cup…

It’s just one tournament and such disappointments are part of the game. I think he is a good bowler who is extremely accurate and has an attacking approach.

There were talks that you would announce your retirement after the World Cup. Is that true?

After the World Cup, I plan to play a little more before ending my ODI career. I want to share my knowledge with young bowlers after that…

Does that mean you will take up a coaching role?

These days, the focus is a bit too much on biomechanics and I don’t like that. I don’t want theories, I want results...that’s my approach. I want to share my experience with the youngsters and tell them how to handle situations, sharpen their skills and help them to analyse the game. These are the things biomechanics won’t teach you. I can do that once I quit the game. But that will happen only after a year or two, once I hang up my boots (laughs).

What are your thoughts on Sri Lankan cricket?

We could not do that well in the last two-three years. We have skilled players, but they need to understand how to deal with pressure. That’s the thing the new group needs to learn. Maybe by the next World Cup, we will have more experienced and match-winning players.