Partnerships in Cricket are abundant. From the pair of batsmen in the middle, to the on-field umpires and the commentary box, a good understanding is always required. Out of the so many perfectly complimenting pairs the Cricketing world has witnessed so far, the Malinga-Kulasekara partnership is something which was often separated.
Born 13 months apart, the older partner, Kulasekara made his international debut just 8 months before Malinga. However, with the great Chaminda Vaas taking lead in Sri Lanka’s pace attack during the early stages of their careers, the duo had to wait for a while to play together regularly. Having played second fiddle to Vaas for a certain period, the pair were prepared to become Sri Lanka’s premier pacers by the time the left-armer hung up his boots.
When they eventually became the leaders, they delivered. The investment in having them around since the 2003/04 season started to pay off. They hunted as a pair for nearly 5 years, yes just 5 years!
The year 2009 became a turning point in Kulasekara’s career as he transformed into a regular pick, from being a standby. Making the most of the given opportunities, he became one half of a deadly pair alongside Malinga; Sri Lanka’s main pacers in the 2011 World Cup. The next World Cup, in seamer-friendly conditions, saw the duo playing just 3 matches together with Kulasekara being dropped for most of the games. This sums up the fate of their union.
The 2014 World T20 final in Dhaka is simply the signature performance of the Malinga-Kulasekara partnership. Both of them were at the peak of their powers then. However, 2014 can now be considered as the last notable year the duo really played together for Sri Lanka. The following years saw a sporadic distribution for the famous partnership.
The last match the two played together is a game to forget for Sri Lanka as it was the game in which their series defeat to Zimbabwe was sealed in July 2017. It’s almost July now in 2019. It’s been two years without a single match in which both Malinga and Kulasekara played together. Sri Lanka playing in another World Cup have lost their second seamer, Nuwan Pradeep due to illness. Their only inspiration and lead fast bowler, an old Lasith Malinga, says that he’s ‘tired’ and wants to play a farewell game with his old friend.
When Vaas’ career saw a controversial end, the backups were fresh and ready. Have we got the backups good to go as Malinga approaches his swansong? Out of the young lot, only Kasun Rajitha is with the squad right now. All the other seamers in the squad are 30+, whereas the likes of Malinga, Kulasekara, Farveez Maharoof and Dilhara Fernando were still in their 20s when Vaas played his last World Cup in 2007.
Technically the Malinga-Kulasekara era was done back in 2015 and since then, Sri Lanka has not had a proper leader with the ball. Even Malinga was out of the team for a year, from September 2017 to September 2018. Malinga has now called for a farewell game with Kulasekara to mark the end of an era. I would call it a reunion rather than a farewell. Deserving, but a little too late?
Were the current leading lot of Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep and Isuru Udana given enough match time alongside the greats to grow into the leadership and are the future generation of Dushmantha Chameera, Lahiru Kumara and Kasun Rajitha being exposed enough to progress, are two questions most of us are unable to find an answer to because out of the two, which problem should be given priority itself remains a question.
The ‘transition’ which other countries manage so smartly, has become the biggest problem in Sri Lanka. Neither seniors nor juniors find themselves at a good enough level in terms of performance and the future remains a big question. Will there be a Malinga-like guy in Sri Lanka’s World Cup squad in 2023 to lead the pack? Can Lakmal, Pradeep or Udana survive until then?
Nothing seems to be in order, BUT doesn’t Kulasekara deserve a better farewell? (because it seems like he’ll never get another game) Doesn’t Malinga deserve something grand to finish off his legendary career? Don’t they deserve to play the 100th ODI together? (Yes, the tally is at 99 at the moment)
Remember how Sri Lanka’s favourite pair, Sanga-Mahela ended their T20I careers in Dhaka? How about a similar send-off for the architects of that win, in Melbourne next year?