'My bowling action is natural'
Fearless, uncomplicated and enthusiastic, Lasith Malinga - the "pocket rocket" of Sri Lankan cricket - is jobless, and homeless too. Speaking exclusively to Charlie Austin, with Ajit Jayasekera, the team manager, as an interpreter, Malinga talked about his remarkable rise:
How did you start playing cricket?
I was 13 when I started playing cricket. My village, Rathgama [close to the southern city of Galle], was cricket crazy. We all loved it, watched it, and played it whenever we could in the coconut groves. Even to this day, when I go home, I go straight to play softball cricket with my pals. At 17, I started playing leather-ball for Vidaloka College. In my second match, against Neluwa College, the umpire, Keerthi Dharnapriya, was the master in charge of cricket at Mahinda College [one of two big cricket schools in the south]. I took six wickets and the next day I was invited to see the the principal at Mahinda College and invited to join the school. I was very proud. Mahinda College was famous for its cricket in Galle.
How did you develop that round-armed action?
It was natural. A lot of the softball players used it. The key to being a successful softball bowler was to bowl fast yorkers. That is all I tried to do.
How did you progress into first-class cricket?
Before I had even played for Mahinda College, I was invited to join the Cricket Foundation by Champaka Ramanayake [the Galle-based former Sri Lanka bowler and fast-bowling coach]. We trained for three months and I played three practice games with the leather ball. One day, I was practising with Galle CC and Champaka, their player-coach at the time, strained his neck. I was asked to be his replacement and I took eight wickets in the first match.
So, after just five games using a leather ball, you made your debut. That is astonishing. Were you not overawed, or nervous?
Not at all. Champaka was a rock for me. He gave me so much encouragement, saying "Don't think about anything else, just bowl straight and fast." That is what I tried to do. I was just so happy to be playing and to have access to all the facilities. It was amazing for me.
What is your strategy when you run up to bowl?
Well, firstly, I just run in to bowl with the idea of taking a wicket with every single delivery. My method is simple: I just try to bowl as fast and straight as possible, trying to hit a good length. Every now and then I mix in a bouncer. There is no change in the action. I just try to hit the pitch.
Has anyone tried to change your action?
Champaka concentrated at the start on making me more accurate. I was wayward. We improved after lots and lots of spot bowling. Then he tried to make my action higher. But I became too wayward and lost pace. We abandoned that and returned to my natural action.
|I was really touched when Adam Gilchrist picked out a stump for me and came into our dressing-room, announcing: 'This is for that boy Malinga'|
How did you learn reverse-swing?
Champaka taught me. It was simple. He showed me how to switch around the shiny side and I just bowled fast and full. I didn't need to change my grip or action.
Do you have a role model?
My hero was Waqar Younis. I loved the way he bowled fast inswinging yorkers.
Who was the first person you hit in a match?
I hit my first batsman in the first game: Bradman Edirweera. First I hit him on the helmet and the next ball I had him caught.
And have you hit anyone in the Sri Lankan nets?
Yes, nearly all of them. Champaka invited me down there early on, in 2001, as a net bowler. In the end I was stopped from bowling [Ajit, the team manager, interjects: "I remember it well. The guys were shocked. They were saying 'There is some bugger from Galle and we can't spot him, we must tell Champaka not to bring him.' They were worried that he was going to injure someone."].
What is the secret to your strength and fitness?
I have always been active. Every morning we would go swimming in the river behind the village. We would swim over to my aunt's place on the other side. I would climb the coconut palms to pluck the king coconuts. We would drink them and swim back. If we weren't swimming or at school, which took place from 8am to 2pm, we were playing softball until it was dark. We never stopped.
What about your family?
I am the middle of three brothers. The oldest has gone to Italy in search of work, and the other is at school. My dad, now retired, worked for the Central Transport Authority as a mechanic. My mother also worked, and still does for a rural bank.
Where do you live now?
Well I stayed at the academy dorms for a while, but have now been moved out because a new programme has been started. In between tours, I have nowhere to stay in Colombo so I just go back home. I don't have a job, although Hatton National Bank are interested.
What did you want to do [apart from cricket] at school?
I wanted to study more. I had some quite good O-level results: four distinctions, five credits and one pass. My passion was maths.
Do you still want to study?
How did you find it entering the Sri Lankan dressing-room?
It was easy. I didn't feel any different. The guys were great. They all welcomed and encouraged me. I felt at home. Marvan [Atapattu] just told me "Bowl naturally ... think of it like a club match and remember that we are all behind you."
What is the wicket you remember the most?
The first Test wicket, without a doubt. It was Darren Lehmann. He seemed uncomfortable. First I had him caught off a no-ball in the gully and then I trapped him lbw. It was a magical feeling.
How did the Aussies treat you?
I was surprised. Everyone came and said "Well bowled". I was really touched when Adam Gilchrist picked out a stump for me and came into our dressing-room, announcing: "This is for that boy Malinga."
Are you concerned about injuries with your strange action?
Not particularly. I have had one slight back injury in my career so far. Since then, no worries. I do take great care though and, with help from CJ [Clark], the physio, have been doing lots of exercises on my back. Hopefully, I can remain injury-free.