In the English Summer of 2019, Lasith Malinga was, inadvertently, the story.
In an extraordinary career, there was nothing he would have left to achieve but a 50-Over World Cup. The ambition was so strong that he even participated in a Super Provincial Tournament in Sri Lanka in the middle of an IPL even though it was not compulsory for him to do that.
The ambition was so strong that he immediately blew up the jetlag to bowl a ferocious spell of 4 for 43 against England just after returning from his mother-in-law’s funeral.
If there was ever an intended moment to raise the heat, it was ultimately the fire and brimstone of Separamadu Lasith Malinga in action. Step by Step, slinging its way to glory.
Then, how would you make sense of the void and the absence? How would you dawn on the realization that there would be no “Maa-lin-gaa Maa-lin-gaa” chants at an IPL game? How would you sleep peacefully knowing there would be no slinging yorkers landing at the batters’ toes with uncanny accuracy? You wouldn’t have any of it and justifiably so, Malinga’s retirement from all forms of cricket has left an enormous void. His invisible footprints in the game have acted as markers everyone would be proud of.
No numbers would do justice to his incredible charisma as a cricketer. Malinga, as Vithushan Ehantarajah once wrote, “a homespun cricketer forged from nothing but a love of the game and his environment: a product of the beaches of Rathgama who was encouraged to embrace what made him different and urged to fight against the predominantly western notion that he, like Murali before him, was more suited to a circus.”
Malinga has retired from the sport at a very curious moment. The sport has been richer than ever but still lacks a financial resilience where a single Test cancellation can put up a never-understood-before strain on cricket boards around the world. We are in a moment in history where players are treated like Guinea Pigs than superstar idols. There is no moment for hero-worship, stardom can move on in the blink of an eye.
It is a fragile generation of sports fans, which lives for its own Twitter moments and Instagram reels. Malinga traversed all of that and announced his retirement on an “Unverified” Twitter account. He has no regard for conventional wisdom yet leaves a lingering aftertaste that many superstars of his generation could scarcely provide. It is the memories that a casual cricket observer would remember Malinga through.
There were so many records, too. Highest wicket-taker in T20Is, second-highest wicket-taker in Men's T20 World Cups, the first player to complete 100 wickets in the IPL, 5 Five-wicket hauls in T20s, highest bowled dismissals among any bowlers in T20Is, and more - the story of the shortest format would be incomplete without one of its very architects.
His retirement has come in phases. A long-standing knee injury forced him out of the Tests very early in his career. 2019 World Cup saw him ending the ODI career and subsequently, he moved away from T20Is. Franchise and domestic cricket was the last pitstop which has now come to an end. It has allowed many fans to slowly and systematically grasp the very fact and come to terms with his absence. However, you are bound to get emotional at the final stop - like the peak of a difficult trek, Malinga gave joys only to be experienced.