Andrew Fidel Fernando in ESPNcricinfo, September 2019, with this title “Malinga’s hat-trick in magical 5 for 6 bamboozles New Zealand”
He’s 36 years of age, not nearly as quick as he once was, and almost everyone thought his career was done two years ago. But he’s still got it. That yorker, the late swing, the dip, the accuracy, that low-arm sling: the works – he’s still got it.
Back in the 2007 World Cup, Lasith Malinga became the first bowler to take four wickets in four balls in almost 120 years of international cricket. Three further international hat-tricks later, in defence of Sri Lanka’s modest 125 for 8, he ripped out four in four again, on an evening in which he claimed five wickets for six runs, and hauled Sri Lanka to a 37-run consolation victory against New Zealand.
Where the first four-in-four had largely been the result of reverse swing, and balls moving into the right-hander, this time he was envenomed by conventional swing – the ball moving viciously in the opposite direction. Where in 2007, his victims were mainly lower-order batsmen, in a mostly-empty stadium in Guyana, in 2019 he was taking down New Zealand’s top order in front of a euphoric packed house in Pallekele.
When New Zealand began their innings, it almost seemed like a formality that they would complete a whitewash. Sri Lanka had floundered with the bat on a slow, turning surface, registering a total that seemed at least 25 runs below what might have been competitive. Malinga, though, made his team’s batting woes, and the pitch itself, irrelevant.
It was in his second over, the third of the innings, that sent the stadium into raptures, and the New Zealand batting order into tumult. Third ball, he swung a full delivery past Colin Munro’s drive, to tickle his leg stump, the ball moving from middle stump to leg, both in the air and off the surface. The next delivery, to another left-hander, was almost identical. Hamish Rutherford had flown in from the UK for this game, and barely had time to register the ball, before it swerved late again to hit him in front of middle and leg. Initially, the umpire ruled not out. Malinga reviewed almost immediately and had that overturned.
The next two wickets were even more special, coming as they did against New Zealand’s best batsmen of the T20 series. Colin de Grandhomme thought the yorker Malinga had bowled to him was hitting his pads, but again, just micro-seconds before it reached him, the ball curved towards slip, missing yet another shot, hitting yet another stump. Malinga set off on a celebratory sprint as Pallekele went nuts around him. But he wasn’t done yet. Ross Taylor managed to get a boot in the way of the next outswinging yorker. This time, there was no doubting where the ball was headed. The umpire gave it out immediately.
Malinga would take one more wicket in his following over, getting Tim Seifert to edge to slip with what else but a full outswinging delivery. Which meant that he had taken five wickets in the space of nine balls. The only run he conceded in that sequence was a leg-side wide. He had reduced New Zealand to a galling 23 for 5 – in danger at that time of recording their lowest T20 total.
Although Malinga took himself out of the attack, wickets would continue to tumble. Three fell in the space of four balls in the ninth over – the first a run-out of Daryl Mitchell, before Akila Dananjaya bowled Scott Kuggeleijn with one that ricocheted off the batsman’s elbow, then had Mitchell Santner stumped two balls later. In the following over, when Wanindu Hasaranga trapped Todd Astlein front of the stumps, New Zealand were 52 for 9 after ten overs.
The game seemed as if it was all done at that stage, but Tim Southee, batting with No. 11 Seth Rance, still gave the hosts a scare. Southee hit three sixes in the 13th over, bowled by Lakshan Sandakan – a burst of runs that forced Malinga to come back and deliver his final over. Rance and Southee survived Malinga, but could not get much further. On the last ball of the 16th over, Sandakan came around the wicket to Rance, and trapped him in front as he was trying to sweep.
Earlier, New Zealand’s spinners scythed their way through Sri Lanka’s batting order. Santner, whose 3 for 12 from four overs would be the best bowling performance on any normal evening, first had the out-of-sorts Kusal Perera caught at short fine-leg with his first ball, before having Niroshan Dickwella caught at the same position. He then set debutant Lahiru Madushanka up with two beautiful slow, spinning deliveries, before getting him lbw with a straighter one.
Legspinner Astle reaped three wickets himself in his first match of the tour, taking 3 for 28, while Southee maintained a typically outstanding economy rate of four through his full quota of overs. Sri Lanka, whose highest partnerships was the 31-run stand, played a succession of bad shots, and gave up an unnecessary run out to boot.
The Pallekele crowd was subdued at the end of that batting performance. They were soon brought to roaring life by a vintage performance from a fast bowler, who even now, is one of the most explosive going. Almost in the drama of the evening were the stats that Malinga ticked off. He became the first bowler to 100 T20 international wickets during this spell. He now has two T20 hat-tricks, which no one has done. Of the 100 international hat-tricks now taken in cricket, Malinga has a 5% share.