Why Lasith Malinga should lead Sri Lanka in the 2016 ICC World Twenty20

Sri Lanka won the World T20 in 2014 under Lasith Malinga.

There is a deep-rooted conviction in cricket that bowlers cannot make good captains. A figment that the personal performance of a bowler can affect his captaincy is often alluded to as the reason for such a prejudice.

When Malinga is in the hot seat, the haranguing against bowling-captains gets even more hostile. Most people in the island, which include journalists, administrators of the game, selectors and fans, hate Lasith Malinga since many secretly wish they were in his boots. Who wouldn’t hate a man who has made a big fortunate off the shores of Lanka, flies in the private jets of a billionaire, and is independent, prudent, impudent and free-thinking?

Dilshan was forced to give up his wacky facial hairs when he took the helm of the Sri Lankan team. Hence, it is no surprise that people least like a man with goldilocks and tattoos on his body leading their country in cricket. But is it right to judge a man’s leadership abilities based on what swathes his body, especially when the chief scoundrels  in Sri Lanka cricket roam around wearing suits?

He might have told off journalists in the past, but isn’t Virat Kohli, a player who has faced similar quandaries with the media, leading the Indian team well in tests? Then why should Sri Lanka look at the option of appointing Mathews as the captain of T20Is? Why have the barrels of the guns of the administrators suddenly turned towards Malinga? What has he done to be treated in such a puerile manner? Are we witnessing old scores being settled?

As a captain, Malinga has won five out of eight matches. If for the sake of skeptics, the matches in which Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene played are ignored, the slinger has won 2 out of five matches. However, one should be aware of the fact that the brace of defeats against Pakistan came during the process of experimenting, which is actually holding the T20 side in good stead at the moment while the third defeat was against an imposing West Indies side.

While captaining, Malinga averages 17.63 with the ball at an economy rate of 6.92, both of which are better than his career returns. Despite giving away in excess of ten runs per over in each of the two matches against Pakistan in August 2015, Malinga returned to his lethal best against the iron-laced West Indian batting lineup with mind-boggling economy rates of 4.75 and 4 while picking up two wickets in each game.  Therefore, there is nothing to state that captaincy has affected his performance. In fact, captaincy has only helped him improve.

If the match results are a concern for the administrators, then Mathews should also come under scrutiny since Sri Lanka’s Win/Loss ratios in tests under Mathews and T20Is under Malinga (ignoring the matches in which Sangakkara and Mahela played) are the same- 0.667.

At this point in time, Australia, England, the West Indies, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and South Africa have all adopted a split captaincy policy. So what is the need for Sri Lanka Cricket to employ one captain for all formats?

If the concerned parties think that this decision would have long term benefits, then they must note the fact that Sri Lanka has only played 5 T20Is since the 2014 WT20. More often than not, T20Is are played in abundance just a few months prior to the biennial WT20, and generally, it is during this time, teams start building themselves. Hence, even if Malinga’s future is nebulous, Sri Lanka’s preparation for the WT20 in 2018 will begin only a few months prior to the global event and that time should suffice  to groom a new leader. On the other hand, if the administrators think that a team can be built around Mathews with only a couple of months to go to the WT20 2016, then similarly, a team can be built around a new captain, if needed, for the WT20 in 2018 within months. So the argument that this decision will have a benefit in the long run is invalid.

Someone who cannot read a batsman, someone who cannot read the match situation, someone who has no clue about the field that should be set could not have emerged as the best ever death-over bowler.

The other argument that incinerates against Malinga is that he is not a captaincy material. Where this belief stems from is unbeknown. Many have come forth about Malinga’s leadership qualities in the past. Russel Arnold, answering questions from fans in the premiere Sri Lankan cricket website- Island Cricket, wrote that he was surprised when captaincy was not handed over to Malinga after the resignation of TM Dilshan from captaincy in 2012.

Although he just seems to float around in his unassuming way, he does have a very good head on his shoulders and is always switched on. Lasith is a man of a few words, but he does come up with some great suggestions that have surprised many. At one time, when Dilshan stepped down and Mahela was reluctant to captain, I wondered why we did not go with Malinga as our captain for the shorter formats, as I felt Angelo was not ready. – Russel Arnold

Unsurprisingly, Russel is not the only expert who trusts the gun slinger’s leadership qualities. Mahela Jayawardene, arguably Sri Lanka’s best captain ever, said the following after the league stage game against New Zealand in WT20 2012: “He has got the experience, he has done it in various situations. He said what he was going to do from the beginning and how he wanted the field. It is easy for a captain when you have a bowler with that sort of confidence.”

One shouldn’t forget the fact that it was Lasith Malinga who sired the ploy of bowling outside off Yorkers to India at the death in the final of the WT20 in 2014. And given his exploits at the death and his meticulous wizardry with the ball during pivotal moments, it is obvious that this tear away veteran has a sane head on his shoulders. Someone who cannot read a batsman, someone who cannot read the match situation, someone who has no clue about the field that should be set could not have emerged as the best ever death over bowler.

Malinga has a great eye for young talents.

Much like Arjuna Ranatunga, Lasith Malinga has the ability to demand the players he wants, as could be seen in the way he co-opted five debutants to play in the two T20Is against Pakistan. Though the media was quick to jump the gun and throw brickbats at Malinga, the results of his judicious and timely decision are being appreciated in hindsight by fans and experts alike.

Chamara Kapugedera did justice to his true potential and eventually made his way into the ODI side after the T20 series against Pakistan. Shehan Jayasuriya impressed with the bat and fared well with the ball and later made his debut in ODIs. Dhananjaya de Silva and Dasun Shanaka both got the break they needed and are standing a chance of making it to the squad for the premiere T20 event in India. The fact that Dasun Shanaka, picked purely on reputation, has gone onto notch two mammoth centuries in the domestic T20 tournament shows that the veteran fast bowler has got a great eye for young talents.

The truth is that Malinga is a better captain than what the fans make him seem. He is ferocious, strong and impudent and has led the Sri Lankan bowling attack raucously in the shortest format.  He is also visionary in a way that he thinks a multitude of steps ahead, which is evident from the way he justified his anomalous decision to play five debutants.

“In past World Cups, I’ve heard and seen people say, ‘We should have brought that player’, or, ‘This other cricketer would have been better in these conditions. But whether I’m the captain or someone else is, I thought that I would save the captain that fate. I wanted to choose a young group of players early and present them. There’s no need to guess at how good the players are,” Malinga said after the series loss to Pakistan in 2015.

At the risk of exaggerating, it must be told that Lasith Malinga did what most of the previous captains of Sri Lanka failed to do.

Furthermore, if Malinga is to be sacked from captaincy, it will definitely have a detrimental effect on his performance as a bowler. Lasith Malinga will have to play a pivotal role if Sri Lanka is to have any realistic chances of defending the title. Even if Malinga lion-heartedly cold shoulders his indignation, which he has been doing for a very long time, is it justified to treat one of Sri Lanka’s greatest players in an infantile and humiliating manner? Yes, Malinga has faced worse mortifications in the past from the administrators and the media alike, but does that mean we can keep slinging mud at him? He might have sufferance and patriotism to provide his hundred percent to his country, but shouldn’t we have the civility to treat him in the way we should be?

On a personal note, Malinga has better chances of leading Sri Lanka to the second consecutive WT20 championship than Mathews, who is being criticized for his unimaginative and apathetic captaincy style.  As a nation, we have failed miserably to treat Lasith Malinga with warmth, let alone honoring him for his accomplishments for his country- that too despite several career threatening injuries. He has played through pain for our country. He has taken pain-killers like meals and has needled his body more than an acupuncture recipient. This is, probably, the only chance we have at our disposal to do justice to his services for our country. Lasith Malinga on all counts deserves captaincy and should be Sri Lanka’s flag bearer in the 2016 WT20 in India.