Timing is key when pulling off the perfect bluff, and Lasith Malinga did just that when he redeemed himself in spectacular fashion on Sunday night to defend eight runs in the last over and help Mumbai Indians lift their fourth IPL title.
Despite being carted around for 42 runs in his first three overs, Malinga was keen to bowl the last over. The choice for Rohit Sharma was between the exuberant Hardik Pandya or the experienced Malinga. Sharma put his arm around Malinga’s shoulders and the 35-year-old veteran repaid his skipper’s faith with a magnificent slower ball, which won the game in the end.
Even his teammates did not think that Malinga would bowl a slower one in such a tight situation. “Always thought he would go back of length or bouncer. But he bluffed everyone and that is probably why experience matters,” said Hardik Pandya after the match.
Throughout the last over, Malinga had kept his pace up, bowling the first five deliveries at more than 140 kmph ( 142, 143, 141, 140 and 140 kmph) before sending a last-ball bluff at 112 kmph which caught Shardul Thakur unaware plumb in front.
Coming off the bench
Malinga enjoyed a successful campaign this year to return with 16 wickets in 12 matches at an average of 27.37. But signs of him being on the wane had come in 2017 when he played the same number of matches but picked up only 11 wickets at an average of 34.72.
In 2018, he went unsold in the IPL auctions. Injuries coupled with a drop in pace and inconsistency reduced his role to that of a bowling mentor for Mumbai Indians. Word spread around that the end was near for one of the most celebrated fast bowlers.
But the Lankan warrior wasn’t ready to fade out just yet, and his resurgence began with the Global T20 Canada in 2018, where he showed how he’d changed his limitations into strengths. That was the first time when he started to shift his focus from pace to his slow floaters. In six matches, Malinga returned with 13 wickets at an average of 11.64. His economy rate of 6.41 was among the best in the tournament.
A recall to the national side happened in the Asia Cup where he showed good pace and accuracy and subtlety. Mumbai also bought him back for season 12 at the end of last year. A rejuvenated Malinga was back on the IPL stage fitter, stronger and with several improvisations.
Subtlety over raw pace
To continue playing at the highest level, it is imperative for a fast bowler to manage the workload and use their intellect to improvise. It is here that deceptive variations play a key role. For the Lankan speedster, this came with a shift from the tearaway yorkers to his slower variations, particularly the off-cutter that tends to jump at batsmen.
Malinga’s arm speed along with a deceptive action made it extremely difficult for batsmen to decipher his slowers. The rewards were visible in IPL 2019, where Malinga used the slow off-cutter to pick 8 of his 16 wickets.
In a high voltage tournament like the IPL, bowlers can survive if they implement effective plans. Malinga’s decision to bowl around the wicket was one of them. In the last match of the league stage, he went around the wicket to Andre Russell and bounced him out for a duck. In the last over of the finals, he once again bowled the first five balls around the wicket and conceded only seven of the eight required runs.
Apart from those reverse-swinging yorkers, he also employed the short ball judiciously. Given his action, these deliveries tend to hurry on to the batsmen at an awkward height.
A reduction in pace and growing age can also dent a fast bowler’s confidence, but Malinga is a different breed. To prove the Lankan selectors that he was fit enough to go to World Cup, Malinga even went to the extent of playing two matches inside 12 hours- a T20 match in India and a domestic 50 over game in Sri Lanka. Not only did he get selected for the World Cup but also bagged a career-best List A figures of 7/49, representing Galle.
Malinga has been one of the finest T20 players that we’ve seen. For Mumbai Indians, he’s done it for so many years and is still a potent package. And this is not good news for the batsmen with the World Cup around the corner.