June 20, 2013

The Malinga threat

India's batsmen will need to find a way to overcome Sri Lanka's most potent weapon

As India prepare to take on Sri Lanka in the Champions Trophy semi-final in Cardiff, they might be spending a little bit of time deciphering Lasith Malinga, the bowler who could prove to be the biggest threat to them.

While some Indian batsmen, like Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni, have got the better of Malinga on various occasions, the ones who haven't faced him enough might still be a little wary. The reason Kohli and Dhoni have done well against Malinga is because they go deep into the crease, which allows them to get under his yorkers. And their whippy quick-arm strokes, without flourish but with great power, have enabled them to hit him through the on side. Once Malinga's most dangerous weapon is rendered ineffective, it's easier to deal with the rest. Malinga would do well to remove these two batsmen early or else Angelo Mathews might have to keep his premier bowler away from Dhoni and Kohli.

The first problem while facing Malinga is getting used to his unique action. Batsmen are conditioned to play bowlers with high-arm actions and hence look at their points of release - the earlier the release, the fuller the ball; the later the release, the shorter it is. A beamer and a bouncer are the results of releasing the ball at the earliest and the latest possible moment.

While this is a generally sound method of judging length, it doesn't work as accurately against Malinga, since his points of release are different from those of most other bowlers. You have to be a little careful at the beginning, even if you have played him a thousand times.

The second thing you must be careful about is his variable bounce. Since he has a slingy action, he doesn't release the ball at the top of his height, which means the bounce he gets off the surface isn't directly proportional to the length, as it is for bowlers who have a high-arm action.

Lastly, his ability to mix his variations with accuracy makes him a difficult bowler to play. In one over against Australia at The Oval, he bowled three well-disguised slower ones, an accurate yorker, a bouncer, and a high-speed length delivery. His ability to mix his deliveries up doesn't allow the batsman to line him up and that's the primary reason for his success in the shortest format.

But every coin has two sides. While Malinga is extremely effective when he's at the top of his game, he isn't half as good if things aren't falling into place. Since he isn't the traditional seam-up bowler who relies on swing in the air and movement off the surface, he not only needs pinpoint accuracy with his line and length, he also can't afford to slow down even by a fraction.

If conditions are conducive to fast bowling, as they were in Cardiff for the England v New Zealand game, he tends to struggle a little bit, for to make full use of the conditions you need to pitch the ball on the seam more often. With his action, it's almost impossible to hit the seam on the pitch every time, and so it deprives him of lateral movement off the surface. No wonder, Nuwan Kulasekara was a more potent force in Australia during the tri-series in 2012.

Since bounce and movement off the surface aren't Malinga's allies, he relies on beating the batsmen with pace, or at times the lack of it. The difference in pace between his regular ball and the slower one, without any visible change in the action or his arm speed, befuddles the batsmen. If the variation in speed isn't that much, batsmen won't find it as difficult.

As Malinga's methods continue to be exposed, he needs to keep raising the bar. He might have lost a few teeth in the recent past, but you disregard his threat at your peril, for he still has the ability to change the complexion of a match, like he did in the low-scoring game against New Zealand.

While the Indian batsmen will be calling on their experience of playing against him, Malinga will be hoping to win just one more battle, to take his team to yet another final.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rohan on June 20, 2013, 14:14 GMT

    Malinga needs early wickets to give him confidence- I think he will have his first spell in the beginning of the innings

  • David on June 20, 2013, 12:47 GMT

    "While the Indian batsmen will be calling on their experience of playing against him, Malinga will be hoping to win just one more battle, to take his team to yet another final."

    he just wants one more win? so he'd be happy to lose the final? why doesn't he want two more wins?

  • Dummy4 on June 20, 2013, 10:02 GMT

    No doubt, Malinga is still a potent force in international cricket, but he has traditionally struggled against India. All the factors that Aakash has spoke about in this article would have been spoken about in detail during the team meetings which is why Kohli just toyed against him at Hobart last year. Similarly, Dhoni has proved umpteen number of times that he can set Malinga right. Guys like Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan play at the top of the order for their IPL teams and hence, have a lot of experience in playing him. The vulnerable part is the lower middle order. Karthik, Jadeja and Ashwin need to be prepared to thwart Malinga in case of an early collapse. Otherwise Malinga is pretty much a less potent campaigner against India at least

  • Dummy4 on June 20, 2013, 9:50 GMT

    Indian batsmen have played Malinga a thousnads time in IPL etc. so he should not be a big threat for them.

  • Dummy4 on June 20, 2013, 9:47 GMT

    India are bowling first and their faster bowlers have to get advantage for sure as in the second innings they might have to chase a moving target courtesy D/L.

  • Dummy4 on June 20, 2013, 9:44 GMT

    I think Team India have a slight edge in today's encounter. But the team who does fewer mistakes will have a definite advantage.

  • Bradman on June 20, 2013, 9:40 GMT

    In fact malinga scared about Indian batsman specially kohli.

  • Dummy4 on June 20, 2013, 9:37 GMT

    @Varun Varman: Its precisely that, which is stated in the article my friend !

  • Dummy4 on June 20, 2013, 8:50 GMT

    certainly yes. its malinga factor that decides Indian score. If he knocks out 2 or 3 wickets then there is a game for sl.Otherwise to stop Indians from scoring heavy will be a dream for sl. some one commented that this Indian attack is the weakest.I feel thay do have variety. ashwin and jadeja; ishant and B Kumar well supported by part timers. I too feel that if Indians can see away malinga there is no such known threats unless some other sl bowler takes it as his day.

  • PeterJerome on June 20, 2013, 8:04 GMT

    Malinga normally has good control over the bounce he needs bcos of his unique side arm action and wrist position. If he desires minimal bounce all he does is maintain a straight wrist position in line with his side arm action and avoids hitting the seam. When he wants to surprise the batsman with bounce, he doesnt change his side arm action at all but just twists his wrist in an upright position and bangs it in hitting the seam. It actually allows him to chuck the ball without the need to bend his elbow. Whats truly amazing about him is the control over his release point. Cos if that goes wrong the ball could get sprayed around for the ugliest wides as seen sometimes in his bowling. All the best Malinga The Slinga. Give us Indians a good fight.

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