ODI bowling winner
Older, slower, still deadly
The talisman who broke Sri Lanka's finals hoodoo
Lasith Malinga is 31, but he has seemed older than that over the last year and a half or so. Injuries continue to hound him, and he seems to take longer to recover. His low-slung bowling has lost some of its sting, and his run-up, like his midriff, has gained a bit of wobble.
For all that, he remains Sri Lanka's most incisive pace option in limited-overs cricket by quite a distance, particularly towards the final stages of an innings. Since his debut, no one has taken more wickets in the 41-50 over phase than his 101, and among the 14 bowlers with 50 or more death-overs wickets in that period, only four have bettered his average of 18.34 and only two his economy rate of 6.38.
This facet of his game was on display in the opening match of the Asia Cup last year, against Pakistan. He came into the game with his effectiveness under question - in the preceding months, he had averaged 53.28 in eight matches spread across the home series against New Zealand and the series against Pakistan in the UAE. Now, chasing 297, Pakistan were going pretty well when he came on to bowl his eighth over. They needed 47 from 36 balls, with five wickets in hand and Misbah-ul-Haq batting on 72.
Malinga hadn't taken a wicket in his first seven overs, and had conceded 41 runs. In his next 17 balls, he took five wickets. Shahid Afridi slapped him straight to short cover, Misbah holed out to deep square leg, and only his last two wickets - of Saeed Ajmal and Bilawal Bhatti - were products of that famous heat-seeking yorker, but the spell shaved a couple of decimal points off his already magnificent death-overs average.
His ODI numbers in the first 40 overs, though, remained run-of-the-mill. When Sri Lanka met Pakistan again, in the final of the tournament, he had an average of 32.43 and a strike rate of 40.11 between overs 1 and 40.
Three balls into the final, those figures looked set to take more punishment. Malinga was just about jogging in, the ball was sitting up off the easy-paced Mirpur pitch, and Sharjeel Khan had punched him twice to the cover-point boundary. The second four came off a fairly decent delivery - on a good length, on off stump, angling away from the left-hander. Sharjeel just stood there and smacked it.
Like a lot of batsmen who stay next to the line of the ball and hit everything through the off side, Sharjeel doesn't really like balls that cramp him for room. Malinga probably knew this, having played against Pakistan several times over the last few months. So he quickly stopped giving him width. His next two deliveries were fuller and straighter, targeting a middle-and-off line. Sharjeel blocked both.
Malinga slung the last ball of the over even fuller, and achieved, for the first time in the match, a hint of swing, towards the pads. For most batsmen, that's an invitation to clip through the leg side. For Sharjeel, whose front foot had taken its customary half step across the stumps and caused his body to assume an ungainly, closed position, it was a problem delivery. His foot stumbled out of the way and his hands threw themselves at the ball, causing it to take off in a low arc into the hands of the diving mid-on fielder.
Malinga wasn't swinging it a long way, but he had something to work with. He began his next over with two away-curlers on a tight line on off stump. Mohammad Hafeez got behind the line and kept them out, watchfully. When Ahmed Shehzad got on strike, he wasn't nearly as watchful, and was caught behind attempting an extravagant back-foot punch. In his third over, Malinga found the perfect line and length to freeze Hafeez's feet and draw an uncertain nibble outside off.
Just like that, Pakistan were 18 for 3, with their two stodgiest batsmen, Misbah and Fawad Alam, at the crease, trying to rebuild. They took their time over it, putting on 122 at less than four runs an over before Malinga came back into the attack and got Misbah to miscue to long-on.
The partnership had given the innings enough stability for Fawad and Umar Akmal to plunder 101 in the last ten overs, but Sri Lanka still only needed to chase 261. Though they suffered a couple of hiccups along the way, they got there with five wickets in hand and 22 balls left to play. A comfortable win, made possible by Malinga's wickets.
He picked up his fifth in the final over of Pakistan's innings, deceiving Akmal with a slower ball. Everyone else had gone wicketless. Malinga was older, slower and tubbier, but he was still Sri Lanka's only true match-winner with the ball.