Lasith Malinga on Sri Lanka's two baby Malingas: 'It's absolutely mad'

Nuwan Thushara bowls AFP/Getty Images

Lasith Malinga, not renowned for his exuberant joy, is a little bit giddy. Or at least the closest he gets to being giddy.

He is reflecting on two young bowlers who modelled their actions on his own crazy roundarm bowling having made Sri Lanka's T20 World Cup squad. He's been coaching Nuwan Thushara at Mumbai Indians over the past two months; Matheesha Pathirana he'd worked with before.

"I can't tell you how happy it makes me," he says.

And then… oh my… was that a giggle? From Malinga?

"In the T20 format you are always talking about the yorker because that's the ball that stops sixes from happening. To have two bowlers who can bowl yorkers like the two of them can in the same tournament? That's crazy. That's absolutely mad."

Since Malinga made the yorker his signature delivery at the very start of his career, it has long been thought that roundarm bowlers are especially suited to bowling the yorker.

The theory goes like this: where conventional bowlers' higher trajectories mean that if they miss the blockhole, batters can use the depth of the crease to get under the ball, roundarm bowlers and their lower trajectories have a much greater margin of error when bowling full.

Right through Malinga's own career, a low full toss was almost as good a ball for him as his pinpoint yorkers, though this was also because of the reverse swing he often generated at the death.

So far this is playing out in Pathirana's career as well. Since January 2022, his economy rate of 8.13 when bowling yorkers, full tosses or full deliveries is the third best among fast bowlers who have bowled a minimum of 300 deliveries. (Fazalhaq Farooqi and Jasprit Bumrah are Nos. 1 and 2.) Thushara's economy of 9.57 isn't quite up there with the best when going full, but it's not terrible either.

"It's the first time in my life I'm seeing one country have resources like this," Malinga said. I think [Sri Lanka's] bowling line-up is the best in the world."

If he's getting carried away here, it's not difficult to understand why. No bowler had ever done what he did at the international level, and now two from the country are. Pakistan have Malinga-style bowlers too, Zaman Khan being chief among them. There may be more in the pipeline.

"I saw that there was someone at Under-19 level that was bowling like this, as well as a young bowler from Jaffna who was the same. And I'm even getting scolded that too many bowlers like me are coming through," Malinga laughs.

"But if they have the talent to play well at this level, what can I do? I'm so happy if they come through. I'll teach them everything I know about my art!"

"Thushara needs on-field management"
Of the two bowlers, Malinga says, Thushara is the most like him. "He swings the new ball into the left-hander, and swings it nicely away from the right-hander. He's got a nice slower ball, which doesn't quite have the dip mine did, but it's good.

"And in addition to that, he's got a good yorker. Right now at training, he's got good control of the wide yorker and the straight yorker."

Thushara has had a decent IPL, in a rough season for bowlers. In seven outings he has taken eight wickets and conceded runs at 9.88 an over. His start to his international career has been better - 11 wickets from eight games. In the last series he played, against Bangladesh, Thushara pulled off that classic Malinga feat - taking a hat-trick, as he collected figures of 5 for 20.

"He's a match-winning bowler, first of all," Malinga says of Thushara, "But when he goes into the match, he sometimes gets a little confused about how to set his field. It could be because he hasn't played enough at this level. He's only played a handful of internationals.

"Because of that, when the team is making plans for him, the captain has to be right there with him. The captain needs to know what types of balls he's trying to bowl, so he can set the field according to that. Even if we as coaches tell him to bowl a certain way, if the captain is not there, it doesn't work.

"A player who doesn't have a lot of experience is one that hasn't built up a lot of confidence with his captain. If the captain is there in the meeting - if Wanindu Hasaranga is there, or the wicketkeeper Kusal Mendis is there - then they know what plans he's made, where's he's going to bowl and what field he needs. If that happens, even with an inexperienced player, the captain and the wicketkeeper have the ability to adjust his fields.

"After the sixth over, you have to tell him to bowl three or four yorkers every over. What happens then is that you can't hit sixes off those deliveries. If they are trying to get a wicket, the main weapon is the slower ball. He can bowl that at a wider line because that's where the field is. The wicketkeeper, captain, and bowler need to all be on the same page about that.

"He's got the weapons. He's got a perfect slower ball. He can bowl the slower yorker and the slower length ball, and I've helped him hone those. But he doesn't have the experience yet to use them. If he can get a bit of guidance, he's a deadly bowler. I'd definitely play him in this team, and give him two powerplay overs, and two at the death."

Pathirana's "big heart"
Where it's Thushara's higher arm action and higher wrist that allow him to get early swing, Pathirana's arm comes around even lower than Malinga's, making him better suited to the middle and late overs. This is exactly where Chennai Super Kings have used him across the last two seasons.

His improved control - especially when bowling yorkers - and rapid pace (he has frequently breached 150kph this IPL) have made him one of the most penetrative death bowlers in the competition.

"Matheesha, without any fears you can bring him in the last stages of an innings," Malinga says.

"Even through the middle overs, if we want to unsettle batters, if we want to bowl short balls, if we want to bowl fast yorkers in the middle in tandem with a spinner - that's an opportunity too. He doesn't bowl with the new ball much, so you can use him in the middle for wickets.

"If you have Wanindu bowling from one side, and Matheesha from the other, both are wicket-taking bowlers. If Wanindu locks up one side, batters know they have to score against Matheesha. Then there's a big chance of getting batters out"

Pathirana was actually among the top wicket-takers in the IPL this year, having taken 13 wickets from six matches, He arrived at the tournament slightly late, and had his season cut short by a hamstring injury. Sri Lanka hope he'll be fit to start the World Cup.

"His biggest weapons are his pace and his yorker, and he had a bit of an injury and he dropped pace a bit, so we'll have to see how he recovers from that," Malinga says.

"But the biggest thing I see with Matheesha is his big heart. He's very positive in the match. Those aren't things we can teach him. Those are things he's got naturally. Even in the year he first came into the IPL, he didn't have any fear, or any doubts.

"If you tell him this is what we need at this time, he has the ability to do that. He's got the ability to make a decision. He's quite clear in his thinking."

Could we see him bowl the death overs in tandem with Thushara?

"If you get him set with Nuwan Thushara - it's the first time in my life that I would see two yorker bowlers like them operating together. If in the last four overs one of them bowls eight yorkers and the other bowls eight more, that's 16 balls you can't hit for six. That's the first time I've seen potential like that in my life. I don't know what the selectors will do."