Malinga seemed the least likely of individuals to steer Sri Lanka to a world title, but on Sunday (April 6) night at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium, he managed what illustrious predecessors such as Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara couldn’t – lay his hands on a global trophy.
In the Twenty20 International swansong for two of Sri Lankan cricket’s most celebrated sons, Malinga led the side from the front, marshalling his troops astutely and bowling with customary impact in the final overs. His first over had gone for 8, the second for 10 but his last two, the 18th and 20th overs of the Indian innings, produced only 9 to make sure his batsmen didn’t have to chase more than 131 in the final of the ICC World Twenty20 2014.
Malinga hasn’t had more than sporadic success against India, his critics quick to pan his participation in the Indian Premier League for his lack of effectiveness against India’s batsmen in general and Virat Kohli specifically. Malinga has taken the criticism in his stride but in his personal moment of glory and on an emotionally exhilarating night for Sri Lankan cricket, he couldn’t help but get his own back.
India made just 66 in its last 10 overs despite having nine wickets in hand. “I think it's because of the IPL. Since I play in the IPL, I have a fair understanding of Indian players and I could control their batsmen and use my bowlers to contain them,” he said, without malice but keen to make his point. “I’ve learnt everything from the IPL. I'm really happy to play in the IPL.”
Malinga came in to the tournament as vice-captain to Dinesh Chandimal, took charge on a temporary basis when Chandimal was banned for one match for a slow over-rate offence, and led in his own right in the semi-final and final as the Sri Lankans took a calculated punt by leaving out its designated skipper for Lahiru Thirimanne. Malinga, who is a ten-year veteran in international cricket, said he took confidence from the resources under his command, and that luck had played no part in his team’s march to the title.
"I've played over ten years in this team, I know every single player, their ability, what they can do," said Malinga. "I enjoyed my captaincy in the last three games, I know exactly which player has what ability. I used that experience during my captaincy and I was successful. People can say what they want. Some say winning is luck, some say winning is talent. I really believe luck had nothing to do with our victory. We worked hard, we know our ability, we know what we can do. Everyone is talented and everyone performed well, which is why we are the champions. I don't believe in luck."
Warming to the captaincy theme, Malinga went on, “Any captain should have the ability to get the best out of all players – from the most experienced to the junior most. Only then can one build a team. Every captain learns from their past captains. That’s how new captains become great leaders in the time to come.
“Great captains like Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara graduated under skippers like Arjuna (Ranatunga), Sanath (Jayasuriya) and Marvan Atapattu. I, too, had the same exposure and that helped us a great deal. We've had four-five captains in our team who had loads of experience behind them. I took over from Chandimal and I thought that I should get everyone’s help. That's why we could win a World Cup after 1996. At the same time, there is a school of thought that a fast bowler cannot lead the team. I think I did justice for the pacers as well. If you can take wickets, you also have the ability to take up any responsibility on the cricket field.”
For Jayawardena and Sangakkara, the man of the final, it was the perfect send-off, and Malinga was understandably proud of how the team had responded in the stalwart duo’s final T20I fling. “When Muttiah Muralitharan retired, we could help him to get that 800th (Test) wicket,” recalled Malinga. “Sanga and Mahela are two greats, just like Murali. They've done wonderful service to Sri Lanka cricket. It’s great that we could win the cup for them in their final match, it's a fitting gift for them. Kumar and Mahela may have retired from T20s but they'll continue to play in ODIs and in Test cricket. It will be good for the youngsters who play alongside them in Tests and ODIs.”
It’s been a long but productive three months in Bangladesh for Sri Lanka. At the start of the year, it won a two-Test series 1-0, and swept the ODI and T20I series 3-0 and 2-0 respectively, before winning the 50-over Asia Cup last month, going unbeaten through the competition. The World T20 title was the icing on a very sweet, very rich cake.
“We've been playing well in Bangladesh since before the Asia Cup,” agreed Malinga. “Our batsmen and bowlers did what they could, instead of worrying about their opponents. That was very important for us in this series. We won a couple of games but lost one (to England). However, we held our nerve to win the next few games and lift the cup.”