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I didn’t see first ball Lasith Malinga bowled: Sri Lanka pace guru Ramanayake

Sri Lanka’s outgoing pace bowling coach Champaka Ramanayake talks about discovering raw talent like slinger Lasith Malinga and current spearhead Nuwan Pradeep and turning them into match-winners.

india vs sri lanka 2017 Updated: Jul 31, 2017 19:54 IST
Sanjjeev K Samyal
Sanjjeev K Samyal
Hindustan Times, Galle
Lasith Malinga,Nuwan Pradeep,Champaka Ramanayake
Lasith Malinga has represented Sri Lanka in 30 Tests, 199 ODIs and 67 T20Is so far. In 2011, he announced his retirement from the longest format of the game. (NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A fascinating aspect of Sri Lankan cricket has been how unorthodox bowlers have been picked out of nowhere and nurtured into effective pace weapons in international cricket.

During his 14 years as Sri Lanka’s fast bowling coach, across two terms, Champaka Ramanayake came to be known as the man who helped develop raw talent into mean pace machines.

(Read | Lasith Malinga, Sri Lanka slinger, stays the ever popular local boy)

Almost the entire crop of current fast bowlers has passed through his hands with Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara, Nuwan Pradeep, Lahiru Kumara and Dhammika Prasad prominent among those he has coached.

Finding Malinga

It was Ramanayake, the former Sri Lanka pace bowler, who picked Malinga as a 16-year-old out of nowhere and turned him into a world beater. There are similar stories about the development of Nuwan Kulasekara and Nuwan Pradeep.

(Watch - Did You Know Lasith Malinga was a village swimming champion?)

“We always get raw cricketers, especially from villages. Like Malinga, (spinner) Ajantha Mendis too came from nowhere. In the history of Sri Lanka cricket, we have lots of stories like that; we have people with natural ability,” Ramanayake told the Hindustan Times.

Ramanayake, who played 18 Tests and 62 ODIs from 1986 to 1995, also had a stint with Hyderabad Sunrisers in 2014. After picking diamonds from the dust, he chose to walk away quietly with Monday being his last day in office with the Sri Lanka cricket team. He will be joining the high performance academy in Bangladesh next month.

(Read | MS Dhoni greatest ever India captain but Virat Kohli may catch up: Ravi Shastri)

Nuwan’s first impression

Watching the bowling of Sri Lanka spearhead Nuwan Pradeep – he took 6/132 in India’s first innings in the Galle Test – from the other side, the Galle Fort End, which also happens to be his home, he recollected the bowler’s story.

“It was highly satisfying to see him finally convert four wickets into a five-wicket haul -- almost 10 years of work has gone into it. Till the age of 20, he had never played with a leather ball. I first saw him in 2007 in Colombo at a talent search competition. With his first ball, Pradeep clocked 139 kph. I straightaway picked him for our fast bowling academy.

(Read | Nuwan Pradeep lone bright spot for Sri Lanka in Galle cricket Test vs India)

“His advantage was that even with a soft ball, he bowled with a very good run-up,” said Ramanayake.

He also spotted Malinga from virtually nowhere, turning him into a potent force. “I first saw Malinga in 1998 when I was doing talent search for a private academy, only open for those boys who were not playing competitive cricket. I still remember, I was batting against the participants and the first ball Lasith bowled, I didn’t see it because of his action.

(Read | Cheteshwar Pujara: Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel reality check strengthened resolve)

“Straightaway I went and said ‘you are coming to play for the Galle Cricket Club (in first-class cricket)’. I saw something special in him because when you couldn’t see the ball, it is a huge advantage for the bowler. I knew the batsman will struggle against him.”

Pace or swing

Around the same time, Ramanayake also happened to watch Nuwan Kulasekera in action. “I was walking towards the Sinhalese Sports Club and stopped to watch a lower-division game. There was this tiny fellow bowling, he had a good rhythm. I enquired and located his club president and asked if I could take him to Galle CC. Malinga and Kula played together under me for a long time at Galle CC.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Malinga has taken 101 Test wickets, 298 ODI wickets and 89 scalps in T20Is; Kulasekara has 48, 199 and 66 wickets while Pradeep is leading Sri Lanka’s pace attack in the ongoing Test series.

So, what does Ramanayake look in a pace bowler? “It’s pace or swing. Control you can always get with practice, but pace is a very natural thing. Malinga had pace and Kula swing.”

First Published: Jul 31, 2017 19:53 IST