The wild and the swinging
Best Twenty20 bowling performance
There is no more exciting sight in limited-overs cricket than Lasith Malinga steaming in to bowl. The accent is on all-out attack, the accelerator pushed down hard to the floor. Complexity does not really come into it. No bowler communicates so strongly the raw sense that battle is joined.
These days the excitement is sharpened by the recognition that the sight is an impermanent one. Malinga is yet to reach his 30th birthday but has already had to retire from Tests in an attempt to prolong his shelf life.
For the batsman, facing Malinga must be one of cricket's adrenalin rushes: waiting, expecting every delivery to be either a skiddy bouncer that, at its best, is laced with physical danger, or a swinging yorker that can split the stumps like a woodcutter's axe. There is also the recognition that Malinga is a one-off, delivering with a low, slingy action from over the top of the stumps, an angle that demands batsmen readjust their approach. Then there is the wild, untamed look.
The 2012 World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka was a chance for Malinga and the other senior Sri Lankan players to finally end their run of losing finals and gain the winner's medal their careers deserved. But Malinga had a terrible day in the final, conceding 54 in his four overs, the most runs he had conceded in a T20 international. He had never before been hit for more than two sixes in a T20, but Marlon Samuels, West Indies' match-winner, struck him for five. After he left the Premadasa that night, Malinga was said to have turned off his phone for a couple of days.
It makes what happened in Pallekele six days earlier all the more piquant.
The talk before the match had been whether England could not handle spin, but on this charming Pallekele ground, a few miles east of Kandy, Malinga thrust the attention back on himself.
England's defence of the trophy was run aground in a single over. Their relatively inexperienced batting line-up was blown away, perhaps mentally and physically. Malinga took three wickets in an over and finished with 5 for 31.
His tournament had been pretty inconsequential until then. He had taken only three wickets in four matches, but he doubled his tally in the blink of an eye when he was brought on for the third over.
Luke Wright, promoted to open after England had dropped Craig Kieswetter, cut straight to backward point; Jonny Bairstow lofted a slower ball to mid-off; and Alex Hales was pinned by a devilish, inswinging yorker, although replays suggested it was marginally missing leg stump.
There were other ingénues to be dashed aside by Malinga. Jos Buttler hooked to long leg, and Samit Patel, after a gutsy counterattack, was bowled by a low full toss when stepping away to leg.
Malinga's performance, if analysed, was perhaps not of the highest quality - he did not hit his yorkers as reliably as he wanted to, and some of England's dismissals came against what he himself would accept were routine deliveries. But there was something in the air that night - the sight of an untamed fast bowler wreaking havoc - and the emotions this performance unleashed to make it the T20 bowling display of the year.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo