At a time this country is badly looking for heroes, this story touched ThePapare.com reporters at the grounds yesterday.
It was the first water break of the final ODI in England’s tour of Sri Lanka 2018. The stands were unfamiliarly empty and the atmosphere demure. Half the crowd at the heart of Sri Lanka’s cricket, the R. Premadasa International Stadium, was England’s Barmy army.
The man with the famous blond locks walked out. Generally his mere presence instills fear in the opposition but today he was in a different outfit, functioning equally seriously albeit in another capacity. Lasith Malinga was ‘rested’ for the game. He half-jogged onto the field with a bib on and a crate of water bottles in his hand, he was the water boy.
Sadeera Samarawickrama and Niroshan Dickwella were putting up the best powerplay score of the series and highest ODI partnership of the year for Sri Lanka. Malinga still had some words to share with them. He was more into talking to the pair than hydrating them, the topic was definitely not about water!Even though the Sri Lankan bench was occupied by players like Amila Aponso, Nuwan Pradeep and Dimuth Karunaratne, it was senior man Malinga who ran or rather strolled up and down the field when required or whenever he got an opportunity. Certainly, not the first senior hand to do so.
Even in the same game England skipper Eoin Morgan rested himself and went out to the field with a bib on. The famous rugby player Dan Carter has a whole story about how he was a waterboy in one of the charity games, Chandimal in the 2014 World T20 finals and also Dhoni in one of their dead rubbers. But, from the renegade Malinga, it was not expected.
It is a pity that many home fans missed witnessing the game from the stands. Sri Lanka racked up a gigantic 366 runs and ended their innings. The players were in the ground after a brief twenty minutes break for their warm-ups and drills. The two pacemen, Kasun Rajitha and Dushmantha Chameera, were working with the fast-bowling coach, Rumesh Ratnayake. Malinga again opted not to warm the bench and joined the team in the center. Right away he noticed that the crooked rubber stump used for practice was disturbing Rajitha in his run-up. Ratnayake had already tried fixing it and given up. But Malinga, engaged in a fight with the unruly stump and got it out of Rajitha’s way. He then went up to Rajitha and showed some convoluted wrist movements. The very next delivery, a slow ball from Rajitha explained the matter. The session went a little too long, a spectator even uttered “Will he have enough fitness for the match after bowling so much?” But the blond genius was animated the whole time and was clearly on a cause.
The second essay commenced and Rajitha got rid of Jason Roy by the end of the first over. Malinga had poised himself on the fine-leg boundary, waiting for him with the ‘water’. Chameera, who shared the new ball with Rajitha bowled a beauty of an over sending both Butler and Hales back to the hut in quick succession. And, there is Malinga, walking all the way around, to welcome him at the rope by the end of the over. Again it was not just about the water!
The rebel in him still peered out even though he was leading by example at this point. It was humorous to watch ‘our Mali’ in action. He didn’t want to wear the bib right and couldn’t be bothered to carry the crate around so he tied the bib around his neck, wrapped the bottles in a towel and started marching around the ground like a charged general. He was ‘RESTED’ for this game, remember?When Stokes took on Rajitha in the eighth over Malinga was right behind him at the end of it with ‘water’ and words.
At the end of the ninth over, the physio ran out to the middle to have a brief look at Stokes’ calf and sprinted back. Chandimal, at short mid-on, signaled for some water late in the break, right about when the physio was starting his run back to the hut. Malinga sprinted to short mid-on and back in a flash; the skipper counting on the elder-statesman not to decay his over-rate given his predicament. Yes Malinga literally out-ran a physio.The umpires called drinks in the 16th over, and there was Nuwan Pradeep running in with water and towels for the team. And, Malinga saunters in, like a day in the park, with about three bottles of water calmly taking part in the team assembly at the centre. No, it was never about hydration!The best death-overs bowler Sri Lanka ever produced, the second highest T20I wicket-taker in the world, the only man to take 4-in-4 carried water to the entire team all this while, with the exception of Karunaratne who popped out with a bat and sunglasses a couple of times. In the twenty-second over, Akila Dhananjaya picked up Stokes, the last hope of England. And, thereafter, the senior man never came out to the field. Why would he? The 20-over mark was reached, the danger man gone, the DLs par skyrocketing, his work was done.Sri Lankan fans have not come to expect this from a nonchalant Lasith Malinga. He just runs in and bowls toe-crushers and gets them wickets. Let’s everyone else do the bossing around. Never more true the saying ‘Cometh the hour cometh the man’. He literally couldn’t sit around watching while his empire crumbled, he needed to damn well do something about it.
It was never about water. It was the excitement of seeing 366 on board after the darkest days of Sri Lanka cricket. He knew his boys could deliver. As followers it was heartening for us to see someone taking charge when it was dearly needed. He earnestly shared his guile and experience with the new brigade and what better way to do it than in a match situation.
He has been a magnet for criticism, he is a rebel, but, he has always given his maximum whenever he wore the Sri Lankan jersey. That is what made him a champion. That is what made him Malinga!