Lasith Malingas first ball was a low full-toss down Matthew Wades legs,the second a big wide outside the left-handers off-stump one that touched grass around 26 yards and the third a juicy ball that thudded against his bat on the full.
Standing high in his stride,Wade walloped it through the covers for a blazing boundary.
Two legal deliveries into the chase,and seven runs had already been shaved off Sri Lankas smallish target of 239.
But a nail-chewing Mahela Jayawardene had a much bigger problem than leaking runs on his hands: forget those inch-perfect yorkers,his strike bowler had forgotten how to bowl even dot balls. Having been hit for a torturous 96 runs in 7.4 overs during the previous game against the Indians at Hobart due to very similar lines and lengths,Malinga was living a recurring nightmare at the MCG,threatening to implode once again.
While a lesser bowler would have immediately altered his mind to bowl more conventional deliveries,this would be a good time to remind everyone that there is absolutely nothing conventional about yellow-haired Malinga.
So,far from turning defensive,the slinger stuck to his task of remastering the attacking length only to be rewarded with four inexpensive balls to complete the first over. Task one completed,a confident Malinga soon returned with renewed vigour,and wiped up three of Australias four top-order wickets,and one in the tail.
With figures of 4 for 49,Malinga had not just hit the path to redemption,he had also taken it upon himself to shoulder the burden of an injured attack,when there werent enough runs on the board or bowlers in hand.
At the end of the 15th over,Angelo Mathews limped out of the bowling mark with a calf-strain. And just 11 balls later,Thisara Perera hobbled off the field after having bowled only five balls in his first over. While Jayawardene had no choice but to bring in his part-timers,yet he also needed Malinga to be at his best more than ever. And Malinga,the captain acknowledged after the narrow nine-run win,responded like a true champion. Thats the beauty of Lasith, Jayawardene said later.
He doesnt leave anything for later. Every ball,every time he runs in,he gives it his everything. Im really proud of how he picked himself up today after what happened in Hobart. He was bang on the money today. Im glad that he turned it around
And that turn-around began in just his second over of the day. After setting David Warner up with full length deliveries,Malinga slipped in a rare short one. Warner stroked the bait towards covers,one that was intercepted by a short-cover placed for just that mistake. With the momentum shift,Malinga began to strike with bad balls too,as Peter Forrest would soon find out. Attempting to plant Malingas wide delivery into the backward point fence,a bewildered Forrest missed,and only managed to nick one to Kumar Sangakkara.
Brought back for his second spell in the 29th over,the 28-year-old ODI (and IPL) specialist from Galle just conceded the solitary single to Shane Watson in the comeback over,before blowing his stumps apart in the next. It was the wicket that turned the match,and although the Man of the Match adjudicators werent very generous in their praise for Malinga,Jayawardene was.
Lasith managed to put the past behind and be a match winner once again for Sri Lanka, Jayawardene said. But when asked what exactly went wrong with Malinga in Hobart,Jayawardene just shrugged. I dont know… But he did redeem himself today.