With his curly hair, a thick eyebrows and a slingy bowling action he could mislead anyone. The resemblance with the action of legendary Lasith Malinga is so uncanny that in a YouTube video where he is projected as the next Malinga, a few viewers have advised him to colour his hair to complete the frame.
The young boy is 23-year-old Nuwan Thushara, who has been the talk of the town since his emergence in Sri Lankan cricket a couple of years ago. In Colombo, they call him Malinga Jr. Hashtags of #PodiMalinga populate the socialmedia; Podi means little/small.
The most incredible aspect is that Thushara says he never ever set out to copy Malinga; the action came naturally to him. His father was a helper at construction sites, and Thushara didn’t know how to play serious cricket with a leather ball. The world of academies and clubs seemed far away for his family.
“I used to bowl with a soft ball when a friend, who used to play competitive cricket took me to Colombo. There, I first played for Sinhalese Sports Club before moving on to Colombo Cricket Club. People say I must have copied Malinga but this action was how it has been since the start, as a boy,” Thushara says.
Been seen as the next Malinga can bring in a baggage of high expectations. In the past, Sri Lanka has seen bowlers with actions that reminded them of other great bowlers. Remember, Ravindra Pushpakumara, the slinger who resembled the great Waqar Younis?
Thushara never played hard-ball cricket in his hometown Ambalangoda but was known as the Malinga of soft ball cricket. Batsmen found it difficult to score off him.
“People always said I should try to play leather-ball cricket but somehow I didn’t know how to go about it. Back at home, things aren’t that good as my father works as a helper in building houses,” he says.
It was in Colombo that the young boy began learning the art of bowling in earnest. He played under-23 cricket but in the senior side at CCC, the team wanted him to play more in the limited-overs formats.
He even met the real Malinga, and the master taught him how to bowl slower deliveries. Also, how to strategise before bowling, and of course, when to use those slinging yorkers. “I have been watching him for quite sometime now. I’m teaching him now. He has a long way to go,” Lasith Malinga told The Indian Express.
CCC captain Ashan Priyanjan, who has played 23 ODI’s for Sri Lanka, says Thushara still has time to be ready for higher-level cricket. “He has to learn how to bowl with a red ball. He will learn probably in next couple of seasons. We don’t want to expose him to a red ball at the moment. It’s natural that once you have action like Malinga, you will attract people. But he has time. He needs to increase his pace as well. At the moment, he can touch around the 135 kmph mark, but if you want to play higher cricket he needs to get more,” he says.
On Wednesday, at the P Sara Oval, Malinga had come to play his semi-final game for Nondescripts Cricket Club against the Sri Lanka army team. As soon as he came out to bowl, the television crew couldn’t resist interviewing Thushara just beyond the boundary rope. “I have enjoyed this small fame but to be like Malinga, it will take lots and lots of hard work. The road ahead will not be easy. I can only say I will try to be my own man,” Thushara says.