Malinga exposes England & gives Sri Lanka at least one last World Cup memory
When Mark Wood bowled Lasith Malinga to make him the ninth Sri Lanka wicket to fall at Headingley, they looked set for a loss to England that would all but end their hopes of stretching what most expect to be his final World Cup into the last four.
A batting performance defined by toil against the spinners and an ability to deal with the sheer pace of Wood and Jofra Archer had seen Sri Lanka labour to a total of 232-9, a score nobody inside the stadium's recently revamped confines anticipated being enough against an England side that bludgeoned an ODI-record 25 sixes in their demolition of Afghanistan.
But Malinga's status as one of the legends of Sri Lanka cricket has not been earned lightly and the 35-year-old provided some late padding to a glittering reputation with a supreme display of fast bowling at a venue that has seen many during its long and storied history, against a batting line-up with few obvious weaknesses.
With Jason Roy out with a hamstring tear, the England openers could be considered somewhat fragile, however. Jonny Bairstow had a first-ball duck on his 2019 World Cup resume from the opener with South Africa and another arrived when Malinga trapped him in front with a full and straight delivery. James Vince has developed an unwanted reputation for failing to build on fast starts, and that tendency reared its head again as Malinga drew a thick edge to slip for 14.
While it could be aruged those wickets came as a result of the batsmen's deficiencies, the merits of Malinga's next two dismissals are indisputable. First he strangled Joe Root - looking in peerless form after recording his fifth half-century in six World Cup matches - down the leg side, before trapping Jos Buttler, so often England's talisman and saviour, plumb in front to leave the tournament hosts teetering on 144-5.
Malinga finished his 10-over spell with figures of 4-43, allowing just five boundaries in a magnificent effort that put England firmly on the backfoot. Eoin Morgan's men took to playing increasingly rash shots in losing 4-16 in 5.1 overs following Buttler's exit, Ben Stokes' admirable effort to hog the strike and lead the fightback proving in vain when Wood clipped Nuwan Pradeep behind.
Kusal Mendis, who post-game described Malinga as the captain of the bowling attack, put the 35-year-old's performance down to knowledge collated over his long career and expressed hope Sri Lanka can overcome the odds to extend their World Cup stay.
"He has a lot of experience, playing a lot of T20 matches, he has a lot of variation," Kusal told Ommisport of Malinga. "He knows when he's playing against the best batsmen which shot he is playing.
"We have another three games, win another two matches - I think we go to the semi-finals."
82* - Ben Stokes posted an unbeaten 82 today against Sri Lanka; his batting tempo was largely below his predicted rate as he showed patience and faith in his batting partners until the final man came out (Wood). Drama. #ENGvSL#CWC19pic.twitter.com/ZsDHehL3bW— OptaJim (@OptaJim) June 21, 2019
As well as giving Sri Lanka reason to dream again, Malinga's devastating spell should also provide plenty of motivation to England's final three group stage opponents - Australia, India and New Zealand - that theirs is a batting line-up capable of being torn apart after seeing it wilt in the face of Malinga's pace and variation.
When they strode out to bat England looked set to take another routine step towards the last four. Now, thanks to Malinga - who became only the fourth player to reach 50 World Cup wickets with his stellar showing - they head into the toughest three games of their schedule knowing further such failures will put their semi-final hopes in jeopardy.
For Sri Lanka, progress to the knockouts is still an uphill task but, even if they and Malinga do bow out, his heroics have given them an abiding memory from a tournament in which they were in danger of becoming an afterthought.