Shikhar Dhawan took every Sri Lankan bowler to the cleaners on Sunday (August 20) en route to his eleventh One-Day International century, but it was his treatment of Lasith Malinga that stood out during the knock.
At 33, the Sri Lankan paceman isn’t the force he once was. A spate of injuries have not helped the decline, but that doesn’t mean Malinga is done with his career. He still manages to clock a decent pace and hit the right lengths.
Given Sri Lanka’s current position with its injury-hit pace unit, he’s still the best they have. Of course, the yorker, his most effective weapon, is not as feared as it once was and the slower ball is not as tough to pick.
Dhawan knew this. He knew that the deliveries coming at him would not have the zing of the past. He knew that the yorker would rear its head but it wasn’t going to dip like it used to. He knew that the slower ball was always around the corner but it wasn’t going to be too different from the one bowled at original pace.
Dhawan, who has faced Malinga consistently over the years in the Indian Premier League, was prepared. Malinga went for 52 runs from eight tired-looking overs, and it was Dhawan who scored the bulk of those runs.
“He has been legend for Sri Lankan cricket and he has done great in international cricket in all formats,” said Dhawan when asked about Malinga’s decline. “He is a bit old now and with time I feel that his pace has gone down and that’s why we can attack more as batsmen. This is natural because he has played so much cricket. It’s just a cycle, life cycle.”
Perhaps Malinga, who played his 200th ODI last night and has 298 wickets so far, can be excused owing to a career which stretches back to 2004. And 13 years is a long time when you are a pace bowler of Malinga’s nature. But the effects of gruelling bowling sessions shouldn’t be telling on the rest of the unit, who are still quite young.
“They’re a young side and they are in a transition period where all the boys will mature. In international cricket you need to have that experience. The young boys are good but with time they will get better,” felt Dhawan.
What Dhawan implied was that they weren’t up to scratch. When asked the same, Dhawan practiced diplomacy. “I don’t use those harsh words. I think they have a good fast bowling attack, even in the Champions Trophy, they beat us. It’s just that we have got a mature side. I feel that with time the Sri Lankan team will do good,” he offered.
Nic Pothas, Sri Lanka’s interim coach, seconded Dhawan’s views, saying the young unit was inexperienced and will make mistakes going forward. But the former South African wicketkeeper added that chopping and changing the side regularly wouldn’t help the team’s psyche either.
“You have to be supportive of the young team as they build up that repertoire of experiences,” Pothas explained.
“In every team you want your senior players to perform, but at the end of the day they are humans too – they are going to make errors. When you get consistency within a team of players, you will see improvements in performance. When we’re getting new players for every game, it gets very difficult from a confidence point of view. From the player’s point of view, it’s very difficult. It’s also difficult for us, the coaching staff, to create a strategy.”