Experience – as cliched as its usage is in cricket, is a value that continues to be a key component in the sport. A prime example of that is Lasith Malinga. Twelve months back, in the 2018 edition of the Indian T20 League, the veteran Sri Lankan was hired as the bowling mentor of the Mumbai team. His immense contributions to the various successes of his team en route to becoming the highest wicket-taker in the competition notwithstanding, Malinga of 2018 appeared a pale shadow of his former self with age catching up with the slingy pacer. But experience is something that couldn’t have deserted him, and sprinkle some hardwork to that, there is your script for a comeback.
And it has been a story filled with comebacks for Malinga throughout the 12th edition of the tournament. He didn’t feature in the opening match for Mumbai as he was with the Sri Lankan team in South Africa. When he joined the team, he made an impact by bowling an under pressure last over against Bangalore to help his side pull off a victory despite having gone for plenty in the game. Following a three-wicket haul against Chennai, he had to leave for Sri Lanka and picked up a seven wicket haul for Galle in a List-A game the very next day.
After a week’s break from Mumbai duties, Malinga came back and delivered immediately, picking up a four-wicket haul against Bangalore. He got only one wicket in his next two games but he quickly put that behind him to bag another four-fer, against Chennai. Like most of the bowlers in his team, he had an off day when Andre Russell went berserk at Eden Gardens during his 40-ball 80, with Malinga finishing as the second most expensive bowler for his team in that game. And then against Hyderabad, he was the most expensive.
But as has been the flavour of his performances in the season, Malinga had another comeback in store, in the final league game – against Kolkata. The Russell threat was looming large over Mumbai and Malinga had already gone for 13 runs in his opening over. But brought back into the attack, he proved why he’s considered a special bowler for and against the teams he plays. Despite being hit for a six by Robin Uthappa, Malinga didn’t get affected as he got the important wicket of Dinesh Karthik soon after. Then came his biggest impact in the game as he decided to come around the wicket to Russell and outsmarted Russell with a short one to send him back for a first-ball duck. Nitish Rana also hit him for a six but before he could do more damage, Malinga sent back the left-hander to finish with 3 for 35.
The 35-year-old may well be on his last legs as far as his cricketing journey is concerned but his value remains unchanged. In this match, he again proved that with a pivotal performance that helped Mumbai restrict Kolkata to a total of 133, which they chased with minimum fuss to top the table at the end of the league stage. “We don’t depend on a few individuals to take us through, there are a lot of characters who put their hand up and take us through,” said Rohit Sharma after the game. Malinga was a chief among them.