Duck for a sultan of sling

2012-01-21 21:23

For every 10 stodgy, grinding batsmen, out pops an aesthetic dream for whom 20 minutes of watching is worth the entrance fee ... and occasionally for every 20 mechanically manufactured hurlers out comes a slinger whose action makes Sir Isaac Newton turn in his grave.

Lasith Malinga’s 5/54 on a flat track at Boland Park was not the first time he had machine-gunned a South African ­
lower-order. His four wickets in four balls in the 2007 Cricket World Cup in the West Indies was the first instance during which Malinga’s destructive capabilities came to the fore.

Comparisons with Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram, the Pakistani sultans of swing, run thin, but Malinga’s reverse swinging, toe-crushing yorkers are cut from the same cloth.

The 28-year-old may not scale their wicket-taking heights due to his age and his knees, which forced him to retire from test cricket, but yorking ability has built an aura that makes batsmen shudder at the thought of leaving too much to be done at the fag end of ODIs, especially when they are chasing.

His dismissals of Colin Ingram and Graeme Smith in the third ODI in Bloemfontein were Malinga classics, even though Smith’s bottom-handed technique had much to do with his demise.

Malinga’s slingy, round-arm action has been a source of questioning, but unlike his fellow countryman Muttiah Muralitharan, he has never been fingered for chucking.

He delivers the ball more like a baseball pitcher than a regulation bowler, who usually delivers the ball with the bowling arm going past the ear.

It may appear that Malinga throws, but as required by the rules, his arm does not flex past 15 degrees at the point of delivery.

The likes of Shoaib Akhtar, Johan Botha, Shoaib Malik and Harbajan Singh, all of whom have conventional actions, have all been put under the microscope because of their bowling arms.

Malinga is more suited to low, slow wickets where batsmen have trouble judging his skiddy deliveries. Like Dale Steyn, Malinga “kisses” the pitch and looks to swing the ball through the air, unlike a Morne Morkel, who searches for deviation off the pitch and therefore is required to bang the ball into the surface.

The round-arm action is not a novelty, but those who have possessed it have seriously tested, technically and mentally, their opponents.
Australian Jeff Thomson was synonymous with bouncer decapitation, which was standard in the 1970s and 80s, but Malinga, along with the now more consistent West Indian Fidel Edwards and the erratic but very fast Aussie Shaun Tait, are giving manufacturers
more reason to thicken the padding around the batsmen’s toe area.

With the now-not-so mysterious Ajantha Mendis’ variations all but decrypted, his absence from the test team is now a gaping black hole.
Besides the Boxing Day test when they were allowed to dictate terms, without Malinga, the Sri Lankan attack had little bark and no bite.
While he might not grace the longest form, he is still a key member of their limited overs attack and the bane of batsmen’s toes.

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