The slinger's shocker

A Test journey that began with an impressive four for 42 against mighty Australia at Darwin in 2004 has concluded rather abruptly. Lasith Malinga's Test record of 101 wickets from 30 matches at 33.15 with just three five-wicket hauls does not quite reflect his ability, writes S. Dinakar.

Lasith Malinga's departure from Test cricket has been mired in controversy. After all, it is not often that a 27-year-old fast bowler retires from the foremost form of the game.

The circumstances leading to Malinga bidding adieu to Test cricket were dramatic. The Sri Lankan selectors, unhappy over Malinga declaring himself unavailable for the three-Test series in England owing to fitness concerns but bowling with verve for Mumbai Indians in the cash-rich Indian Premier League, decided to flex their muscles.

The panel, headed by former Sri Lankan captain Duleep Mendis, ordered Malinga to return home by April 25 to undergo treatment for his injured right knee. A statement from the panel said: “It's a bit awkward that Malinga is injured but continues to play cricket. When a player says he is injured, we want him to undergo a rehabilitation programme.”

Soon came the announcement from Malinga — the fiery slinger had closed his Test chapter. He was now free to play for Mumbai Indians in the rest of the IPL season.

Interestingly, the former chief of the Sri Lankan selection panel, Aravinda de Silva, had lamented during a brief visit to India ahead of the ICC World Cup that more and more fast bowlers were shying away from Test cricket. “Many of them do not want to play Test cricket anymore,” he said.

Malinga cited a degenerative right knee as the principal reason for his decision to leave Test cricket. However, the timing of this major decision did raise a few eyebrows.

The mercurial pacemen revealed he wanted to prolong his ODI and Twenty20 career and said his knee would be unable to stand the workload of Test cricket.

There was a counter-argument from many that Malinga could have waited for some more time before making the decision on his Test career. After all, he has plenty of years ahead of him.

A Test journey that began with an impressive four for 42 against mighty Australia at Darwin in 2004 has concluded rather abruptly. Malinga's Test record of 101 wickets from 30 matches at 33.15 with just three five-wicket hauls does not quite reflect his ability.

The fast bowler had a lot going for him. His unique quick-arm sling action was hard to pick. Malinga landed the ball on the side to get it to skid away. And when the batsmen played for the away movement, Malinga would straighten one.

His short-pitched deliveries were deceptive and consistently forced the batsmen to protect their rib-cage. When Malinga bounded in with his dazzling mane, the leg-slip would invariably come into play. As the ball got older, Malinga's ability to reverse swing and his precision with yorkers breached several defences. The Sri Lankan could also bowl cross seam to roughen up one side of the sphere quickly.

Between periods of disappointments, when his body and mind were not quite in harmony, Malinga whipped up moments of inspiration. His five for 80 against New Zealand in Napier in 2005 was an effort that was fast and furious. The pitch was unresponsive but Malinga beat the batsmen with air-speed.

A knee injury kept him away from Tests from December 2007 to mid-2010. Eventually, the miracle doctor, Eliyantha White, provided Malinga a lifeline. On his return, Malinga's blistering five for 50 against India in the second innings of the Galle Test was an exceptional effort of control and firepower.

Then, in a bizarre sequence of events, Malinga's Test journey has reached its last stop.