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Twenty20 bowling winner

The wild and the swinging

The night in Pallekele when Malinga wrecked England

David Hopps

March 11, 2013

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Lasith Malinga celebrates Jos Butler's wicket, Sri Lanka v England, Super Eights, World Twenty20, Pallekele, October 1, 2012
Lasith Malinga: untamed and unplayable © AFP
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Best Twenty20 bowling performance

Lasith Malinga
5 for 31, Sri Lanka v England, World Twenty20, Pallekele

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.

The jury says...

  • Not often does a bowler get five wickets in the T20 format. For me, the impact the performance had on the game is the key, and he destroyed England right away. He took those wickets for next to nothing, destroyed England's batting and reduced the game to a no-contest. Geoff Boycott
  • It was a superb spell from Malinga. Great control, especially over the yorkers, and he destroyed England's batting line-up, to end their defence of the trophy. Malinga is probably the most consistent bowlers of yorkers in the world and proof that of all the new ways of death bowling, bowling yorkers are still probably the best and most effective. Osman Samiuddin

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

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David Hopps David Hopps joined ESPNcricinfo as UK editor early in 2012. For the previous 20 years he was a senior cricket writer for the Guardian and covered England extensively during that time in all Test-playing nations. He also covered four Olympic Games and has written several cricket books, including collections of cricket quotations. He has been an avid amateur cricketer since he was 12, and so knows the pain of repeated failure only too well. The pile of untouched novels he plans to read, but rarely gets around to, is now almost touching the ceiling. He divides his time between the ESPNcricinfo office in Hammersmith and his beloved Yorkshire.

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