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In search of the secret behind slinger Malinga's strength

cricket Updated: Jul 17, 2010 00:39 IST
Amol Karhadkar
Amol Karhadkar
Hindustan Times
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More than the pierced eyebrows, it's the unusual action that strikes you when you see Lasith Malinga bearing down on a hapless batsman. The round-arm action which enables him to release the ball from a low point is as rare in cricket as it is to find a Sardar in Sri Lanka.

What exactly turned a kid from a village near Galle into the 'slinger' who terrorises batsmen across the world? "Bowling with a soft ball," explains Sri Lanka coach Champaka Ramanayake, who found Malinga in a talent hunt in 1999. "With the lighter soft ball, you cannot get that speed with the high arm, that's why he bowled like that. You had to develop something. He developed that action, and we never touched the uniqueness."

Besides soft-ball cricket, there is another side to Malinga developing a Jeff Thomson-like action. That was revealed when you take a tuk-tuk (autorickshaw) to where Malinga lives.

Forty minutes from Galle, as you cross the railway line to enter Rathgama, a village with population of just over a thousand, Malinga's house stands out.

Sadly, the house, which is far from a posh bungalow, is now locked, but Bovidu Sammu peeps from the neighbouring house. "Indian journalist?" asks the 16-year-old, agreeing to open up about Malinga. "They have a new house in Moratuwa now but his parents come here every weekend. Even he comes whenever he is in Sri Lanka."

SK de Silva, another neighbour who is Malinga's "family friend", hints at the secret behind the slinging action. "He is a very good swimmer. In fact, he consistently won the river swimming championship in our town," the septuagenarian de Silva says.

The secret of those strong arms - the swimmer's need to open up his arms while crossing a river.

Naturally, the next halt is the river that flows about a kilometre from Malinga's house. Upali, a school kid, says that though Malinga still participates in the annual river swimming championship whenever he can, he is not as effective as in his early days. "Last year he came fourth, losing to a 10-year-old kid," Upali says.

While everyone in the village stresses that fame has not changed Malinga at all, the Rathgama residents, unlike their Indian counterparts, do not drive their pride and joy crazy when Malinga drives down for a weekend.

"We understand he is here to relax, so why shouldn't we bother him?" Sammu says. "And whenever he has time, he still mixes with people on the street."

For the next six weeks, though, there will be no weekend getaways to the place where Malinga spent the first 16 years of his life. The speedster is preparing for a comeback to Test cricket after a two-and-half year layoff.

"He knows he has only one way of playing - attack," says Ramanayake of Malinga. "All the while he is trying to get a wicket, that's what you want. He is a wicket-taking bowler, not a guy who bowls line and length stuff."

If Malinga can stretch the success of T20s and ODIs to Tests, the people of Galle will have something to celebrate.