Lasith Malinga - Best T20 bowler of all-time?
Lasith Malinga is the sort of bowler every captain would want in his side. Or if we go by what we have seen this year, he can do the job of leading the unit along with doing what he does the best: giving batsmen a hard time. The right arm pacer took the cricketing world by storm the time he started playing for Sri Lanka with his unique horizontal arm bowling action. Then there was a brief period where you may have thought that the batsmen of the world had figured out how to handle his toe-crushers. But that period, if it happened, was very short-lived, and this champion bowler returned stronger than before: this time with variations and slow bouncers and what not, to keep the batsmen thinking. He is the best trump card that a side can play as far as death bowling is concerned.
So, how does he rank among the top bowlers in the world? Some would say he is the best T20 bowler around. Let us have a look at some statistics and see what they can tell us.
Having played 201 T20s till date, he holds an exceptional economy of 6.61 in the format; what makes it even more special is that he has done so at an age where batsmen have made it a habit to hit bowlers out of the park. The Galle-born has been a consistent player for the Mumbai-based franchise since the second edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and has contributed handsomely each year. He has played a total of 83 IPL games with them and has a total of 119 scalps to his name.
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He is the highest wicket-taker in the tournament by far, and only Amit Mishra(102) comes close. There are many players like Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla, Albie Morkel, and Irfan Pathan who have played more games than him, but lag behind in terms of wickets taken. 2011 was his best year, when he bagged a total of 28 wickets in just 16 games at an astonishing economy of 5.95. That season also saw his IPL career’s best performance: 5/13 against Delhi Daredevils.
Mumbai Indians won the competition in 2013, and, needless to say, he had a major role to play there, too. As far as the Champions League T20 goes, he has 25 wickets from the 15 times he has bowled, which only goes to show how important he has been in the format and how much of a match-winner he has been.
Now talking about T20 internationals, he is right up there in the tally of highest wicket-takers, at fourth spot after the Pakistani trio of Saeed Ajmal, Umar Gul and Shahid Afridi, who have done wonders with the ball for their country. He has a total of 68 wickets to his name from 57 games and an economy which overshoots seven, that is a bit on the higher side when compared to his overall T20 economy rate (6.61). Teammate Ajantha Mendis and England seamer Stuart Broad follow him closely with 66 and 65 wickets respectively. He led Sri Lanka to victory in the T20 world cup this year, playing a remarkable role both as a leader and a bowler, taking 9 wickets in 7 games.
Malinga’s best international T20 performance (5/31) came in the 2012 World T20 championship. England, chasing 169 to win, were crippled in the third over of the innings, which he bowled. He first sent back Luke Wright, followed by Jonny Bairstow and then trapped Alex Hales in front, all in the same over. The Broad-led side did not gather momentum for a better part of the innings until a 50-run partnership between Samit Patel and Graeme Swann revived the innings to a certain extent that was falling apart. Malinga returned for his last spell and shattered Patel’s stumps and all hopes for an England win. Sri Lanka won the match by 19 runs.
Another one of his high-rated T20 performances was his 6/7 playing for the Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash league (BBL), mutilating the Perth Scorchers batting attack. He struck in his first over itself, removing Marcus North by destroying his stumps. Next over, he struck again; in his second spell, he took two wickets in each of the two overs that he bowled. The Scorchers were all out for a paltry 69. Malinga was adjudged Man-of-the-Match as the Stars completed a victory by 10 wickets.
Pakistan has been the best team so far in international T20, and their star bowlers have had a lot to do with that. Other names like Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, and Broad have made it big in this format, all of whom have healthy economies and more than one wicket for every game that they’ve played. People like Dwayne Bravo, Alfonso Thomas and Ravichandran Ashwin have made it big playing for their franchisees. But if you count both scenarios, Malinga ranks higher than everyone because of his highly marked contributions for both country and clubs. That is why he continues to be an irreplaceable cog for Sri Lankan Cricket and also Mumbai Indians, who have stuck with him over all these editions and look in no mood to let him go or exchange him for another player.
True, he is 31. But he can very well continue and play at least two more editions of the IPL and will be a force to reckon with in the 50-over World Cup in Australia next year for sure, providing he recuperates well from the knee injury. Let us hope he continues to be a nightmare for batsmen and entertain us for as long as possible.