His wild, untamed looks and flaming mane as he sprints to crease would make any batsmen twitchy. And then his low-arm, slingy action never ceases to unsettle the most settled of batsmen.
Spare a thought for a debutante then, especially if the first delivery he receives from Sri Lanka's ace is that dreaded skiddy bouncer, which comes with a health warning. Sharjeel Khan, playing his first One-Day International, tried to duck under it, but did not bend enough and the ball must have left a bruise on his right shoulder.
Sensing a prey, Malinga hurled another bouncer next ball, but the 24-year-old rocked back and pulled him into the stands nonchalantly. If Sharjeel wanted to make a statement, that shot alone would have been enough, but no, he added a delicate flick and a slice through the offside to announce his arrival in pretty bold fonts.
Riding on Sharjeel’s half-century which was backed up by a much-needed century by Mohammad Hafeez, Pakistan posted a massive 322 for 5 in the first ODI against Sri Lanka on Wednesday (December 18). Sri Lanka looked out for the count but staged a stirring fightback through Sachithra Senanayake and Seekkuge Prasanna before falling short by 11 runs, being bowled out in the final over for 311.
Malinga, who had started the match with a maiden and conceded only two more boundaries in his following eight overs, was taken off after that 16-run second over of his. A battle won, Sharjeel turned his attention to the rest of Sri Lanka's attack, contemptuous and cruel as he cut, pulled, flicked and drove his way to an entertaining run-a-ball 61 before lofting Prasanna down to long-on.
Hafeez, under pressure to keep his place in the side with single digit scores in his last three innings and a highest of 33 in eight previous visits to the crease, made sure Pakistan did not waste the good start provided by Sharjeel with a chanceless 122 (7x4, 4x6).
Hafeez was the mainstay of the innings, adding 83 for the second wicket with Sharjeel and 140 for the third with Sohaib Maqsood (73), who clubbed four maximums in his 68-ball stay. Shahid Afridi (34) then provided the finishing touches with a 12-ball blitzkrieg as Pakistan posted its highest score in 40 matches since making 329 for 6 against India in last year’s Asia Cup.
Incidentally, Hafeez had scored a century in that game as well – his last three-figure score in ODIs against a Test-playing nation other than Zimbabwe. Pakistan, however, had lost that match in Dhaka, and it almost lost this one as well.
Sri Lanka has successfully chased a score in excess of 320 only once – against England at Leeds in 2006. It did make 411 at Rajkot in 2009, but fell short of India’s score by 3 runs. Tillakaratne Dilshan had made 160 in that crazy run-chase against India and Kumar Sangakkara 90. On Monday night, the former was caught in the deep for 30 and Sangakkara – 2013’s ODI Cricketer of the Year – contributed 23.
When Sangakkara departed in the 26th over with the scoreboard reading 127, the asking rate had already climbed to 8. Entering the final 10 overs of its run-chase, Sri Lanka needed 109 with five wickets in hand, and Prasanna (42) and Senanayake (42) made a brave bid for it, adding 87 for the eighth wicket in just 7.3 overs, but Sri Lanka eventually finished 11 runs short.