Circa World Cup 2007… the game — Sri Lanka vs South Africa. The Proteas were cruising to victory, when a freak incident suddenly brought the game back to life.
Lasith Malinga, with his toe-crushing yorkers picked up four wickets in four balls, including the well-set Jacques Kallis, who looked set to take his team home but fell just short of a well-deserved ton. In the end, the South Africans still managed to pull off a win thanks to an edged boundary under extreme pressure and Sri Lanka were denied a miraculous victory.
Fast forward to 2011… it is World Cup time again. And that freak named Malinga returns after a two-game break due to injury. And what does he do… repeats history. Well, the opposition wasn’t quite as deadly. Still, Malinga’s same toe-crushing yorkers were once again a treat to watch and the Kenyans were totally hapless again the slinging genius.
Sri Lanka has always been rated as one of the top favourites to clinch this tournament. And now, with Malinga back in Sri Lanka’s scheme of things it only makes them doubly dangerous. The pacer was the missing link in the Lankan attack so far. With his return, Sri Lanka have been strengthened no end. The Lankans will now be extremely confident when they next take on Australia. That game will be a battle of pacers now. If the Aussies have Brett Lee and Shaun Tait then the Lankans too have their own Malinga. The game might well be decided by which side performs better in the pace aspect.
Returning to the game against Kenya, it was an extremely crucial one for the Lankans following their close loss to rivals Pakistan. Also, the Kenyans had defeated their much-fancied opponents in the 2003 edition of the World Cup. So the Lankans would have been somewhat cautious in their approach. Unfortunately for the cricket-loving public, Kenya are not the same force they used to be four years ago. Back then, Collins Obuya spun a web around the Lankans with a wonderful performance of leg-spin bowling. However, his bowling has fell completely by the wayside, so much so that he hardly bowls these days. The experienced Steve Tikolo and Thomas Odoyo too are on the last legs of their careers and struggling to keep pace with stronger teams. And so, it wasn’t surprising that another game fell by the wayside in the one-sided World Cup.
The only time the Kenyans put up a semblance of a fight was when the Obuya brothers – Collins and David – were at the crease rebuilding the innings after the expected early loss of the openers. However, they were so slow during their stint that by the time they registered their respective half-centuries more than half the overs were gone. Still, it was a credible fighting effort, which gave the Kenyans hope of putting up a respectable total and then putting up a fight with the ball in hand. Unfortunately for Kenya, that wasn’t to be the case. As soon as the partnership was broken, the innings crumbled. All the hard work done by Collins and David came to naught as the innings completely lost momentum in the midst of Malinga’s destroying act. Such was the extent of the damage done by Malinga that the services of Ajantha Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan were hardly needed towards the end. And, from a decent 102 for 2, the Kenyan side crumbled to 142 all out. Malinga ended the innings with majestic figures of 6 for 38.
Even though this deadly effort came against a poor side, stronger teams need to be wary of the slinger as, on his day, he could destroy the best of batting line-ups. Australia are up next, and Malinga would be all pumped up to do a repeat act. It would be a tough one but not incomprehensible against a somewhat suspect Aussie batting line-up. That match would clearly be one to watch out for more reasons than one.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan top order batsmen too had a good opportunity to get some batting practice. And, they did not waste the opportunity. Upul Tharanga, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara all got among the runs and ensured that there was no hiccup as the Lankans chased down the meagre Kenyan total with a lot of ease. A Sri Lankan win against Kenya was not an unimaginable result by any stretch of the imagination, the 2007 aberration notwithstanding. Even so, it was important for Sri Lanka to march to victory against the African nation in a comprehensive manner. They have done exactly that. Time to prepare for bigger battles ahead.
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