ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
Sri Lanka v Kenya, Group A, World Cup 2011, Colombo
Malinga's freakery wasted on Kenya
Kenya were such miserably unequal opponents, Lasith Malinga's hat-trick was too underwhelming
March 1, 2011
To begin with some brutal honesty, Lasith Malinga's hat-trick and bowling generally were wasted on this encounter. It was watched by a surprisingly large number of people gamely creating an atmosphere and it was, as feats of statistics go, worthy of celebration. But Kenya were such miserably unequal opponents that it was too underwhelming.
The press conference afterwards confirmed this. About as much time was spent on what will most likely be an entirely pointless handbag scuffle between two players and Sri Lanka's state TV channel, even though this was Malinga's second hat-trick, both taken at World Cups. And even thousands of miles away, four years ago on TV, Malinga's four in four against South Africa in Guyana was felt so much more than this as an act of freakery. Despite losing that game, Malinga rated that spell higher. This game had drifted along so casually, a few didn't realise that he had taken a hat-trick immediately, broken as it was over two overs.
Malinga is actually so compelling a sight you don't need to take into account any opponent at the other end. Watching him bowl pre-game at some stumps was enough. The double-take at his action has worn off. He doesn't run as much as scurry in. In fact, the angry blonde curls dominating his appearance are more distracting; this scribe, though, was always partial to his cornrows phase. He is at least as cool as Chris Gayle though half his size, so that there could also be something cartoonish about the whole picture. Few really fast bowlers have been this small.
He has lately relied on more than just yorkers but there cannot be many around who bowl it with more purpose and greater control than he does: he has them available on tap. Today his 7.4 overs seemed to consist wholly of yorkers, with a couple of short ones and leg-side wides thrown in, perhaps out of boredom. There wasn't a huge amount of late swing, more late dip and curve, but he was getting it early. Kenya had no chance, jerking their bats down late and down the wrong line.
Later, as he sat looking more like a man who had completed the worst spell of his career and answering questions, he name-checked Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis as influences. Like that duo, he takes wickets in short and sharp clusters. Akram had four international hat-tricks to his name but he was on a hat-trick countless times. Once, against the West Indies in 1990-91, Akram took four Test wickets in five balls and the only ball he didn't take a wicket on, the middle one, was a catch dropped by Imran Khan. If you were to predict one bowler in international cricket today to be a serial hat-trick taker, it would have to be Malinga and if we're lucky they might come on grander occasions than this.
He is back in time for Sri Lanka, having missed the first two games with a back injury. That has been and probably will be a recurring theme. He doesn't know how long he'll keep playing for, though it has already been seven years since he weirded out Stephen Fleming and New Zealand. Sri Lanka's attack has variety without him, but with him it becomes a different beast, more teeth and hair. On Saturday, Australia and their fast boys are in town and for one match at least, this World Cup will be all about pace.
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