After a 3/34 against Chennai Super Kings in the 2019 edition of the Indian Premier League, Lasith Malinga flew back to his country to feature in a provincial one-day match for Galle. He ripped through the Kandy line-up to return with career-best List A figures of 7/49.
At 35 years of age, carrying a wealth of experience, Malinga’s determination and commitment to the game is evident from these two performances separated by 24 hours. After 15 years of playing ODIs, Malinga brought his ODI career to a close following Sri Lanka’s victory over Bangladesh at Colombo on July 26. Here, we summarise his career in stats.
Place in the ODI bowling ladder
The ODI wickets chart is headed by a Sri Lankan – Muttiah Muralitharan – but Malinga has carved a special place in the format with his alluring death bowling, deceptive variations and a style of bowling that forced batsmen to focus doubly before playing him. Even among fast bowlers, Chaminda Vaas retired with more wickets than Malinga but the Galle-born bowler is placed seventh - ninth overall - in the list of pacers with most ODI wickets.
With 338 wickets at an average of 28.87 including 11 four-wicket hauls and eight five-wicket hauls, Malinga’s name is safe at the top of ODI’s bowling rung. His strike rate is the third best after Waqar Younis and Brett Lee among the top 10 ODI wicket-takers.
What sets Malinga apart was also his ability to turn up in big tournaments. Having played four ODI World Cups, including the latest edition in England this year, Malinga has 56 wickets in 29 matches at an average of 22.87. Only two other bowlers have more wickets in ODI cricket’s marquee event.
Malinga had a memorable start to his World Cup career with 18 wickets in the 2007 edition in the West Indies, including an unprecedented four wickets in four balls against South Africa. He has taken over 12 wickets in each one of the four World Cups he was part of and was Sri Lanka’s highest wicket-taker in each of these tournaments.
Malinga has three hat-tricks in the format, the only bowler to have more than two in ODIs. One of those was a double hat-trick at Providence in that unforgettable World Cup game against the Proteas in 2007. He took two more ODI hat-tricks – against Kenya and Australia, both in 2011.
Against whom? When? Where?
Malinga has 48 wickets apiece against three countries in ODIs – Pakistan, England and Australia. While he also has 40-plus wickets against India, he averaged his worst and also went at over six runs per over against the Men in Blue.
When on song, Malinga performed against one and all with this being evident from the fact that he has four-plus wickets in a match against eight different ODI opponents. He was equally effective in different conditions and has 127, 111 and 100 wickets in home, away and neutral conditions respectively. He also has very similar numbers when bowling in the first and and second innings – 168 wickets at 29.89 and 170 wickets at 27.86 respectively. What all these effectively underline is how he eliminates the pitch and conditions with his unique skill sets.
The biggest dip in his career came in 2017 when fitness concerns and lowering speeds meant that he failed to be as effective. He picked up just 10 wickets in 13 matches and averaged 62.3 that year. It was at the Asia Cup in late 2018 that Malinga returned to his best. He took 37 wickets in the 22 ODIs that followed, not just the most by any Sri Lankan bowler, but more than double of the next best wicket-taker in the side.
Malinga under various ODI captains
With relentless accuracy and an uncanny ability to eke out wickets with the new or old ball, Malinga was the go-to man for most Sri Lankan skippers in this format of the game. A genuine wicket-taker, Malinga thrived under most captains except when he himself captained the side.
118 of his ODI wickets came under Mahela Jayawardene, a skipper with whom he shared a fantastic rapport. He played his golden years in ODIs under Jayawardene and shone through in this period. A further 91 wickets came under Angelo Mathews under whom he played from 2012 to 2018. When captaining the side, Malinga’s performances went down as a player. His 12 wickets as skipper came in 9 ODIs at an average of 41.83 and at an expensive economy rate of 6.35.
What changed in Sri Lankan cricket with Malinga’s entry?
Even with Vaas showcasing what pace bowlers from the island nation were capable of, Sri Lanka’s overall pace bowling record needed a boost and it came in the period post Malinga’s debut. With his unique side-on bowling action, exceptional accuracy and myriad variations, Malinga raised the standard of Sri Lanka’s pace bowling unit.
In the period before Malinga’s ODI induction, Sri Lanka’s pacers averaged 35.24 and struck every 45th ball on average. That changed with the entry of this warrior. Contributing one-third of all four-plus wicket hauls by Sri Lankan pacers, Malinga brought the average of Sri Lankan pacers into the same category as India and Pakistan (period 2004-2019).
The death bowling legend
Malinga’s USP is without a shade of doubt his death bowling. An unplayable legend in those exhilarating final few overs, Malinga’s toe-crushing yorkers and deceptive slower balls made him an unparalleled champion in limited-overs cricket. Since 2006, he took 121 wickets in overs 41-50 in ODIs, 46 more than the next best bowler – Dale Steyn - in this phase of the game.
He averages 19.75 in the final 10-over phase in ODIs and strikes every 17.7 deliveries while conceding runs at an economy of 6.68. His boundary percentage of 9.77 is the least after Dwyane Bravo and Saeed Ajmal among the top 20 death bowlers in ODIs. That said, his general downfall in ODIs since the 2015 World Cup coincides with a drop in his death overs bowling numbers. He took 16 wickets at an average of 33.12 and an economy rate of 8.21 in the final 10 overs since the 2015 World Cup, a sharp drop from his numbers in this phase of the innings before 2015.