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Sunday, Dec 08, 2019

Lasith Malinga, Sri Lanka slinger, stays the ever popular local boy

Lasith Malinga, Sri Lanka pace bowler, no longer plays Test cricket, but the man with the famous mop of hair and a toe-crushing yorker is as popular as ever in his home village.

india-vs-sri-lanka-2017 Updated: Jul 28, 2017 17:45 IST
Sanjjeev K Samyal
Sanjjeev K Samyal
Hindustan Times, Galle
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.
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)

Lasith Malinga is no more the feared speedster of yore. The pace has reduced and the injury list has only got longer.

His ground coverage has slowed down to such an extent Sri Lanka’s sports minister took a dig at him during the ICC Champions Trophy, saying his ‘big belly’ was hindering his fielding.

(Read | Sri Lanka turn down Pakistan Cricket Board invitation to play T20 series)

Lasith Malinga has not been a part of the Test team for a long time now, yet in these parts of Sri Lanka – that is in and around Galle – he is still remains the most popular cricketing figure.

The Malinga wigs

An indicator was wigs of his long curly mop of hair making an appearance during the first Test between India and Sri Lanka at the Galle International Stadium.

As you reach the town of Hikkaduwa and turn towards Rathgama village (12 km from Galle), the Malinga influence is there to see although it’s been years since he left this place and moved to greener pastures.

(Read | India vs Sri Lanka: KL Rahul recovers from fever, trains with Indian team in Galle)

Reason: He has stayed in touch with his roots and that is what has endeared Malinga to the locals. “He is the Shah Rukh Khan of here,” says Sampath, an auto driver.

Lasith Malinga’s wig is a big hit among fans in Sri Lanka.
Lasith Malinga’s wig is a big hit among fans in Sri Lanka. ( HT Photo )

Visit his alma mater, Mahinda College, for whom he played for three years from 2002, and the goodwill becomes apparent. They have good things to say about his being particular about giving back to his old institution.

(Read | Jayananda Warnaweera, once Galle cricket stadium’s caretaker, living in oblivion)

“Past players have formed an association by the name Cricket Foundation of Mahinda College, which participates in cricket activities and contributes monetarily to improve the facilities. Malinga is part of it. Last year, they helped build the indoor nets at the college ground,” says Director of Cricket, Duminda Wickramasinha, who was also Malinga’s first captain at the top local side, Galle Cricket Club.

The Mahinda College has produced five international players with Malinga their most famous product.

Giving back to cricket

“They help to train the coaches as well,” Wickramasinha said of Malinga and the other internationals. “Before the last big match our college team played, he came down to talk to the team and identified two-three fast bowlers for special training. He is an active participant of the association.”

(Read | Lasith Malinga gets suspended 1-year ban for media remarks on sports minister)

At his village team, Flyingbirds of Rathgama, where Malinga first fell in love with the game, he provides cricket bats. They still only play with a soft ball at the small, muddy ground.

“Malinga used to play for the village team, Flyingbirds. Now also he keeps coming here. We play with the bat given by him,” says Khandenamal Viduranga, who went with Malinga to school and is now a fisherman. “That time also, he would knock off three to four wickets in an over regularly,” Viduranga says proudly.

Malinga, the swim champ

A pure natural talent, there are many tales of what helped Malinga grow into the bowler he became. His Flyingbirds teammate says before he got hooked to cricket, he was a swimming champion of the village.

Pointing to the river that flows next to his place, Viduranga says: “He was the best swimmer of the village and regularly won the annual village swimming race. Sometimes, he still goes for a swim here.”

More than his help, it’s the confidence he has given to the youth of his village that they are indebted to, his childhood friend says.

It’s from the mud ground that Malinga’s journey started. And it’s only fair he stays in touch with his roots.