Tennis ball the secret for Slinger Malinga
Guyana - Want to develop a bowling action like Lasith Malinga? Try bowling with a tennis ball.
Malinga grew up in Galle, in the south of Sri Lanka, doing just that. If you have tried to bowl over-arm with a tennis ball in the office, or your mother’s lounge, you will have found the exaggerated bounce a problem.
Try it side-arm and it skids through normally, although you may not be good enough to take four wickets with successive balls in an international, as Malinga managed against South Africa last Wednesday.
“He’s come through playing tennis ball cricket, hence his exaggerated low arm action,” said coach Tom Moody in response to a particularly vague question from a BBC reporter on Saturday.
“Thankfully in the process of moving up to international level he hasn’t been mucked about. He’s been left to be as natural as possible, he’s reaping the benefit and so it the team.”
After his amazing spell against South Africa, the comments came pouring in about the legality of Malinga’s action and whether he throws the ball. Of course the International Cricket Council would swiftly haul him up if his elbow were seen to bend more than the 15 degrees allowed, especially on such a big stage.
I don't believe there is any flexion in his elbow and that the doubts arise because it is such a shock to see him in action for the first time.
In a change to the norm, nets at Guyana National Stadium are set up so that the hoi polloi can stand directly behind the batsman and get a real feel for what it must be like to face the world’s best bowlers.
In one net, bowling to Kumar Sangakkara, on Saturday were star spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, pace bowler Dilhara Fernando and the man with the blond-tinted curls, Slinger Malinga.
Fernando was easy enough to follow, while I tried to get a look at Murali’s wrist and the turn on the ball without being too confident I would be able to put a bat in the right direction.
But with Malinga I had absolutely no idea where the ball was coming from or where it was going.
Shaun Pollock must have felt the same way when he was so confused he asked umpire Daryl Harper to remove his hat so he could sight the delivery better, only to be bowled by a slower ball.
“He has a very unique action, unique hairstyle, he’s unique in that he bowls at 90mph and is about 5ft 10ins,” said Moody.
“He is one of these unique bowlers that tend to crop up, particularly in Sri Lanka. We’ve had Murali who is a special bowler and this guy is a little bit different.”
I suggested to Moody it must be difficult to retain consistency and avoid injury with a style that unorthodox.
“It’s surprisingly grooved,” he said. “He has, over the past 12 months, continually improved his consistency with his control.
“So far – touch wood – he has been strong. We’ve rested him when we’ve felt that it’s not time to overload him but I think he’s going to be around for a while.”
There is more consistency to come, though. In the excitement over his bowling at the death against South Africa, it has been almost forgotten his first four overs went for 37.
“We’ve got to look at it realistically – he bowled poorly for six overs in that match and came back and bowled well for three overs,” Moody added.
“We’re working on those six overs now and bottling the confidence from the three overs. He knows he is far from bowling the complete match.”
Moody’s was the first of two media conferences at Guyana National Stadium on the eve of Sri Lanka’s clash with West Indies.
He was followed by Brian Lara, who looked tired but dealt patiently with an interrogation into selection policy.
Thankfully, it looks like Lara’s men will be roared on by a packed ground – or close to it – on Sunday with only a limited number of tickets still on sale the previous morning.
Lara made clear his disappointment at the swathes of empty seats in Antigua during the Super 8 defeats to Australia and New Zealand and perhaps a full house will help spark the home side back to life.