July 17, 2010

Where Malinga was made

Down Galle way lies a village where one of the world's leading fast bowlers delivered slingers with a softball on the beach and swam in the local lake
16

Rathgama. One of the most violent villages in Sri Lanka, announces Saman, the auto-rickshaw driver.

"But they seem nice people."

"Yes," says Saman, "They are nice when you are smiling at them. Actually, they are very nice people, but that's only when they are nice. When they get bad, they get really bad."

Saman uses his thumb to make a throat-slitting motion, pauses, and then says, "Like Lasith himself. He is very nice, I have played with him, played only two balls and got out twice. Gem of a person, but when he fights while playing cricket…"

Rathgama is, of course, the village, 12km from Galle town, that Lasith Malinga comes from. It's a small place, with a population of about 1000. You ask anyone where Malinga lives and they will tell you. And they say "lives" even though the Malinga family has moved to Moratuwa, because they have not left the house; they still come here on weekends.

Everyone can tell you the way, but directions are not enough. It's an intricate village, green, with myriad twists and turns. It's extremely easy to miss a turn. After having missed three, up the hill, we reach this house that has nothing extraordinary about it. Nobody is around, but it is clean, with two easy chairs and two neat pairs of slippers on the veranda. The front of the house looks renovated, but they haven't bothered about the dilapidated back.

SK de Silva, neighbour, keen cricketer in his day, and former captain of Kaluthura Maha Vidyalaya, says Malinga came to the house two days ago - four days before the Galle Test.

In this "violent" village, playing in the grounds nearby with a softball, Malinga perfected bowling round-arm, slinging balls at high pace. The softballs were light, the sea breeze heavy, it wasn't possible to bowl fast with a high-arm action. Uncoached, untaught, Malinga developed his low-arm action. Some people know just what to do.

There is another theory: that Malinga can pull off that action because the strength in his shoulders comes from years of winning swimming championships in the lake that's barely a few hundred metres from his house. Free-style swimming is round-arm, not high-arm.

"Every New Year [Sinhala New Year, mid-April], we have the competition," says a kid biking around the lake, "We start from here [pointing to the start of lake], and go until there [pointing to a rock just before a small island inside it]. Last year he finished fourth. The winner was a 10-year-old kid. This year he missed the competition."

This year of, course, Malinga was responding to some of the loudest chants in cricket, "Ma-lin-ga, Ma-lin-ga", in the IPL. The boy remembers how Malinga came soon after the IPL and fished with them. "He comes often and plays cricket with us," says Bovidu Sammu, a 16-year-old neighbour.

"He plays softball still. In some random competitions, he goes and plays," says Champaka Ramanayake, former Test bowler and now national bowling coach. "He goes and takes hat-tricks and all. It's proper softball competition, proper professionals playing. Loves, just loves playing softball. Just goes and bowls yorkers."

If Malinga comes to Rathgama for a peaceful weekend, he gets it. "Only the first time he came back from playing for Sri Lanka did a huge crowd gather, and we had a big cultural thing," says de Silva. "Now nobody bothers him." Says Saman: "Why should they bother? He is just another man."

Except Malinga isn't. He is one of the few men who bowl really fast today. He is perhaps the most recognisable face in Sri Lanka, with his funky hairstyles. De Silva, though, remembers a shy kid, "as ordinary as others", who just played well.

Ordinary Malinga wasn't, when at 16 he caught the eye of Ramanayake. "It was probably 1999, 11-12 years ago. The first thing I saw about him was… I was batting, facing him, but I never batted after that. I had the privilege of telling him, whenever he came to bowl, 'Lasith, you come later, not now.'

"I don't know what he bowled, I couldn't see the ball. I was doing a talent search, he came for that, so I went and batted, and couldn't see the ball. I went and said, 'Lasith I am going to pick you for my team, Galle Cricket Club, and whenever you have time, you come for practice.'"

Malinga was a skinny kid then. Ramanayake's biggest challenge was to get some muscle on him to sustain the heavy-duty action. Also, he had to get Malinga, son of a man who did small jobs for a transport company, to a better school. He had to fight with clubs, get him a job. The strength and the muscle came, and Malinga showed good aptitude for studies, having moved from Vidyaloka Mahavidyalaya to the better Mahinda Vidyalaya.

"He was an ordinary boy, but very studious," remembers Ramanayake. "Good at studies. O level also he did well. That helped him grow as a cricketer.

"His action, his uniqueness, we didn't want to change, but his skill had to be developed. He was fast all right, and fast meaning, at 16, he was around 135ks. But he didn't bowl reverse swing - he learned that. He didn't know his fields and all, and the bouncer. Slower ball, he never had. But whenever I said something, he tried, tried, tried."

Ramanayake, the captain, coach and manager of the Galle Cricket Club, had a role to play in Malinga's first-class debut too.

"It was the year 2001, the first time he was selected for the squad, not for the playing XI," says Ramanayake. "We used to play Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but one Thursday I had a stiff neck. I was the opening bowler, and we had two or three seniors. So I thought I would introduce this boy, 17 years old, against one of the leading cricket teams in Colombo, Colombo Cricket Club. He took eight wickets in the match and won the match all by himself. I never forget that. Because I didn't play, he played."

Ramanayake is working hard with Malinga, who is going to play his first Test in two-and-a-half years on Sunday. The action, despite the strengthening work, has taken its toll. Malinga has slowly and gradually made his way back from the injury setback, playing Twenty20 first, then ODIs, and is now a day from a Test comeback. Ramanayake lays to rest fears that Malinga might want to play only the lucrative and less taxing short forms, as many a fast bowler nowadays does.

There are nerves, but also there is excitement. "He is perfectly fit at the moment," says Ramanayake. "Bowling one-hour spells. Our trainer has done good work on him. Lasith is very keen, needs seven-eight for 100 Test wickets."

Last year, during the Test against Pakistan, Malinga walked into the Galle International Stadium unannounced, every bit an ordinary Galle man except for the hair and the piercings, and watched, from among the crowd, his team win the Test. This year he will want to do it rather than watch, and tick an important box in any player's career: Test cricket.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ragamuffintuffy on July 20, 2010, 10:48 GMT

    As soon as he came on the scene, i sez to myself i like this chap...the lankans always seem to produce bowlers with unorthodox styles...heard he has like 7 O'levels???Lankans, pakistanis n the english always get along with WI....

  • on July 18, 2010, 1:21 GMT

    i ;\like sri lanka very very mach and also i like sri lankan skipper kumar sanggakarra he is a trinityian

  • on July 17, 2010, 23:01 GMT

    Malinga is a good talent and great one day and 2020 bowler. Let us how does in test now that he is selected

  • RomanNoseJob on July 17, 2010, 22:42 GMT

    he needs to be back in the test arena, his figures aren't bad but they don't do him justice. In his last prominent series he absolutely jaffa'd Pietersen and the discomfort all batsmen felt while facing him was palable. Chopra picked him specially in his column about facing bouncers as a particularly unpleasant bowler to stand against. He's that wonderful X-factor in Sri lanka's pace bowling equation, that if if they get right (getting prasad fit and settling on who to pick out of him weledegra, kulsekara and thushara), could be world class.

  • on July 17, 2010, 20:57 GMT

    WHEN malinga comes to bowl its kinda thirler... love to watch... if you wana enjoy world cricket should have to make cricket intresting to fans. for that we should have players who makes the game intresting.. specialy for Test cricket there should be good pace bowlers in every team who can make the batsmens strugle.

    waqer, wasim ,hadlee,macgrah, on my days. now days shoib akthar, malinga...

  • on July 17, 2010, 17:55 GMT

    "Rathgama. One of the most violent villages in Sri Lanka" Awsome phrase :D 100% correct.. you dont mess with them.. BTW Malinga is one of tem.. SO DONT MESS WITH HIM..

  • chandau on July 17, 2010, 14:24 GMT

    @MAJR : The side arm action as opposed to high arm is not unique to LM but among all he has the lowest arm at time of release. Tait and Mitch Jhonson both have "slinging" actions so does a West Indian bowler now injured. Before this Rumesh Rathnayake was also called a "slingger" in the mold of Thommo, especially after he broke the nose of a West Indian batter in Sri lanka. However trying to induce someone to imitate an action may bring in dire results, especially in the tedious art of bowling fast. Already LM has come through a bad injury and Tait is also being preserved by Oz not bowling more than a 3 overs a spell. Unlike in batting the physical pressure on the muscle and bone (and ligaments that hold them in place) is far too much in fast bowling, that trying to "COPY" an action that someone is not naturally comfortable with will end in injury. For longevity look at people like Walsh, Vass, Hadlee, who managed to stay for a decade or more with few injuries. Cheers

  • on July 17, 2010, 14:18 GMT

    He is the kind of player that excites people to watch cricket. He makes it fun. Just like Sachin, Lara, Shoaib, Wasim and Warne did. Who doesn't want to see a man slinging yorkers after yorkers at screaming pace! When he is there, you know something's gonna happen - to the batsman I mean.

  • S.N.Singh on July 17, 2010, 13:31 GMT

    MALINGGA IS THE WORLDS MOST DANGEROUS BOWLER TODAY. IN MY OPINION HE IS A BETTER BOWLER WHEN THE SHEEN IS OFF. THIS IS WHAT INDIA SHOULD DO " GO INTO THE COUNTRY SIDE" AND LOOK FOR POTENTIAL FAST BOWLERS AND GROOM THEM. SRI LANKA HAS SO MANY FAST /MEDIUM BOWLERS. TODAY INDIA CAN'T FIND ONE. THIS IS BECAUSE INDIA'S ADMINISTRATION IS NOT ADDRESSING THEIR SITUATION IN THE RIGHT FORM. LET YOUTH FROM THE COUNTRY SIDE TO KNOW THAT THIS IS THEIR JOB AND LIVELY-HOOD AND GET THEM TO TAKE THE GAME SERIOUSLTY. MALINGA AND SRI LANKA IS A PERFECT EXAMPLE. S.N.SINGH USA

  • on July 17, 2010, 12:51 GMT

    Lasith Malinga! Slingy action and powerful yorkers.... Now I understand why he was so violent, I got. Just because of Rathgama..... Isn't so???

  • ragamuffintuffy on July 20, 2010, 10:48 GMT

    As soon as he came on the scene, i sez to myself i like this chap...the lankans always seem to produce bowlers with unorthodox styles...heard he has like 7 O'levels???Lankans, pakistanis n the english always get along with WI....

  • on July 18, 2010, 1:21 GMT

    i ;\like sri lanka very very mach and also i like sri lankan skipper kumar sanggakarra he is a trinityian

  • on July 17, 2010, 23:01 GMT

    Malinga is a good talent and great one day and 2020 bowler. Let us how does in test now that he is selected

  • RomanNoseJob on July 17, 2010, 22:42 GMT

    he needs to be back in the test arena, his figures aren't bad but they don't do him justice. In his last prominent series he absolutely jaffa'd Pietersen and the discomfort all batsmen felt while facing him was palable. Chopra picked him specially in his column about facing bouncers as a particularly unpleasant bowler to stand against. He's that wonderful X-factor in Sri lanka's pace bowling equation, that if if they get right (getting prasad fit and settling on who to pick out of him weledegra, kulsekara and thushara), could be world class.

  • on July 17, 2010, 20:57 GMT

    WHEN malinga comes to bowl its kinda thirler... love to watch... if you wana enjoy world cricket should have to make cricket intresting to fans. for that we should have players who makes the game intresting.. specialy for Test cricket there should be good pace bowlers in every team who can make the batsmens strugle.

    waqer, wasim ,hadlee,macgrah, on my days. now days shoib akthar, malinga...

  • on July 17, 2010, 17:55 GMT

    "Rathgama. One of the most violent villages in Sri Lanka" Awsome phrase :D 100% correct.. you dont mess with them.. BTW Malinga is one of tem.. SO DONT MESS WITH HIM..

  • chandau on July 17, 2010, 14:24 GMT

    @MAJR : The side arm action as opposed to high arm is not unique to LM but among all he has the lowest arm at time of release. Tait and Mitch Jhonson both have "slinging" actions so does a West Indian bowler now injured. Before this Rumesh Rathnayake was also called a "slingger" in the mold of Thommo, especially after he broke the nose of a West Indian batter in Sri lanka. However trying to induce someone to imitate an action may bring in dire results, especially in the tedious art of bowling fast. Already LM has come through a bad injury and Tait is also being preserved by Oz not bowling more than a 3 overs a spell. Unlike in batting the physical pressure on the muscle and bone (and ligaments that hold them in place) is far too much in fast bowling, that trying to "COPY" an action that someone is not naturally comfortable with will end in injury. For longevity look at people like Walsh, Vass, Hadlee, who managed to stay for a decade or more with few injuries. Cheers

  • on July 17, 2010, 14:18 GMT

    He is the kind of player that excites people to watch cricket. He makes it fun. Just like Sachin, Lara, Shoaib, Wasim and Warne did. Who doesn't want to see a man slinging yorkers after yorkers at screaming pace! When he is there, you know something's gonna happen - to the batsman I mean.

  • S.N.Singh on July 17, 2010, 13:31 GMT

    MALINGGA IS THE WORLDS MOST DANGEROUS BOWLER TODAY. IN MY OPINION HE IS A BETTER BOWLER WHEN THE SHEEN IS OFF. THIS IS WHAT INDIA SHOULD DO " GO INTO THE COUNTRY SIDE" AND LOOK FOR POTENTIAL FAST BOWLERS AND GROOM THEM. SRI LANKA HAS SO MANY FAST /MEDIUM BOWLERS. TODAY INDIA CAN'T FIND ONE. THIS IS BECAUSE INDIA'S ADMINISTRATION IS NOT ADDRESSING THEIR SITUATION IN THE RIGHT FORM. LET YOUTH FROM THE COUNTRY SIDE TO KNOW THAT THIS IS THEIR JOB AND LIVELY-HOOD AND GET THEM TO TAKE THE GAME SERIOUSLTY. MALINGA AND SRI LANKA IS A PERFECT EXAMPLE. S.N.SINGH USA

  • on July 17, 2010, 12:51 GMT

    Lasith Malinga! Slingy action and powerful yorkers.... Now I understand why he was so violent, I got. Just because of Rathgama..... Isn't so???

  • kktharan on July 17, 2010, 11:21 GMT

    what a nice article, it gave a nice introduction about SL nice Pace man. thanks a lot.

  • Ellis on July 17, 2010, 10:55 GMT

    Are the references to " violence", poetic licence, or reality? Even if true, which I doubt, what is the relevance and point in an article of this nature? These are proud, decent, cultured people who have lived their lives peacefully for centuries. Live, and let live, is their motto.

    Watch Malinga when he has beaten a batsman, or had a streaky shot played off him. None of the growling, staring, swearing, in-your-face approach of the Aussies and English " fast" bowlers. From him, a smile, a toss of the head, a quick walk back to his mark, a searing yorker in riposte. Sound like a man from a " violent" background? Let's play cricket.

  • on July 17, 2010, 5:47 GMT

    Dear Champaka, we hope malinga's best yet to come.It is really great job Champaka .. as a coach you finds a gem & shining it & offers to the world of cricket.This yorkers should be re name as Malinga special because it is the spice to the cricket receipe not only to Sri lanka . Isn't it ?Once again thanks Champaka.

  • on July 17, 2010, 5:39 GMT

    "Why should they bother? He is just another man." I like that. I think it's that attitude, that perception, that has kept Sri Lankan cricket (and its cricketers) away from most of the scandals that have affected players from the other Asian countries, who are practically deified by millions upon millions of people. It's not the fault of the players, but unfortunately their behavior sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. I may be biased here, but with Sri Lankan players, you rarely, if ever, hear about disciplinary and ego problems.

  • Schuldiner on July 17, 2010, 5:36 GMT

    Malinga is the man! guy doesn't get enough credit but he's one of the best..prolly will go on n become the 2nd highest wicket taker among pacers for lanka after vaas..

  • Percy_Fender on July 17, 2010, 5:14 GMT

    Lasith Malinga is truly original. In all the years of watching cricket at the highest level I have never seen anyone remotely similar in action to Lasith. When you see how accurate and effective he is, you have to accept that his style needs to be emulated by someone. The closest I have seen anyone to Lasith is Rubel Hussain of Bangladesh who is quite pacy. While the body motions need to be different in bowling with this slingshot action, I think f this form of ball release can be practiced from an early age it may not be difficult to execute. Jef Thomson had a discus throwers style but has been copied by others even if not as effectively. Maybe Shoib Akhtar's action comes a bit close. Considering that the type of action that Malinga has produces speed and accuracy, it may well be worth it to have some young bowlers take up this style.If some bowlers have success with this style, I think there will be many wanting to copy.

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  • Percy_Fender on July 17, 2010, 5:14 GMT

    Lasith Malinga is truly original. In all the years of watching cricket at the highest level I have never seen anyone remotely similar in action to Lasith. When you see how accurate and effective he is, you have to accept that his style needs to be emulated by someone. The closest I have seen anyone to Lasith is Rubel Hussain of Bangladesh who is quite pacy. While the body motions need to be different in bowling with this slingshot action, I think f this form of ball release can be practiced from an early age it may not be difficult to execute. Jef Thomson had a discus throwers style but has been copied by others even if not as effectively. Maybe Shoib Akhtar's action comes a bit close. Considering that the type of action that Malinga has produces speed and accuracy, it may well be worth it to have some young bowlers take up this style.If some bowlers have success with this style, I think there will be many wanting to copy.

  • Schuldiner on July 17, 2010, 5:36 GMT

    Malinga is the man! guy doesn't get enough credit but he's one of the best..prolly will go on n become the 2nd highest wicket taker among pacers for lanka after vaas..

  • on July 17, 2010, 5:39 GMT

    "Why should they bother? He is just another man." I like that. I think it's that attitude, that perception, that has kept Sri Lankan cricket (and its cricketers) away from most of the scandals that have affected players from the other Asian countries, who are practically deified by millions upon millions of people. It's not the fault of the players, but unfortunately their behavior sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. I may be biased here, but with Sri Lankan players, you rarely, if ever, hear about disciplinary and ego problems.

  • on July 17, 2010, 5:47 GMT

    Dear Champaka, we hope malinga's best yet to come.It is really great job Champaka .. as a coach you finds a gem & shining it & offers to the world of cricket.This yorkers should be re name as Malinga special because it is the spice to the cricket receipe not only to Sri lanka . Isn't it ?Once again thanks Champaka.

  • Ellis on July 17, 2010, 10:55 GMT

    Are the references to " violence", poetic licence, or reality? Even if true, which I doubt, what is the relevance and point in an article of this nature? These are proud, decent, cultured people who have lived their lives peacefully for centuries. Live, and let live, is their motto.

    Watch Malinga when he has beaten a batsman, or had a streaky shot played off him. None of the growling, staring, swearing, in-your-face approach of the Aussies and English " fast" bowlers. From him, a smile, a toss of the head, a quick walk back to his mark, a searing yorker in riposte. Sound like a man from a " violent" background? Let's play cricket.

  • kktharan on July 17, 2010, 11:21 GMT

    what a nice article, it gave a nice introduction about SL nice Pace man. thanks a lot.

  • on July 17, 2010, 12:51 GMT

    Lasith Malinga! Slingy action and powerful yorkers.... Now I understand why he was so violent, I got. Just because of Rathgama..... Isn't so???

  • S.N.Singh on July 17, 2010, 13:31 GMT

    MALINGGA IS THE WORLDS MOST DANGEROUS BOWLER TODAY. IN MY OPINION HE IS A BETTER BOWLER WHEN THE SHEEN IS OFF. THIS IS WHAT INDIA SHOULD DO " GO INTO THE COUNTRY SIDE" AND LOOK FOR POTENTIAL FAST BOWLERS AND GROOM THEM. SRI LANKA HAS SO MANY FAST /MEDIUM BOWLERS. TODAY INDIA CAN'T FIND ONE. THIS IS BECAUSE INDIA'S ADMINISTRATION IS NOT ADDRESSING THEIR SITUATION IN THE RIGHT FORM. LET YOUTH FROM THE COUNTRY SIDE TO KNOW THAT THIS IS THEIR JOB AND LIVELY-HOOD AND GET THEM TO TAKE THE GAME SERIOUSLTY. MALINGA AND SRI LANKA IS A PERFECT EXAMPLE. S.N.SINGH USA

  • on July 17, 2010, 14:18 GMT

    He is the kind of player that excites people to watch cricket. He makes it fun. Just like Sachin, Lara, Shoaib, Wasim and Warne did. Who doesn't want to see a man slinging yorkers after yorkers at screaming pace! When he is there, you know something's gonna happen - to the batsman I mean.

  • chandau on July 17, 2010, 14:24 GMT

    @MAJR : The side arm action as opposed to high arm is not unique to LM but among all he has the lowest arm at time of release. Tait and Mitch Jhonson both have "slinging" actions so does a West Indian bowler now injured. Before this Rumesh Rathnayake was also called a "slingger" in the mold of Thommo, especially after he broke the nose of a West Indian batter in Sri lanka. However trying to induce someone to imitate an action may bring in dire results, especially in the tedious art of bowling fast. Already LM has come through a bad injury and Tait is also being preserved by Oz not bowling more than a 3 overs a spell. Unlike in batting the physical pressure on the muscle and bone (and ligaments that hold them in place) is far too much in fast bowling, that trying to "COPY" an action that someone is not naturally comfortable with will end in injury. For longevity look at people like Walsh, Vass, Hadlee, who managed to stay for a decade or more with few injuries. Cheers