Fitting gift for Sangakkara and Jayawardene in their final T20 International

Except when he collected the ICC World Twenty20 Trophy, Lasith Malinga did not want to take centre-stage on Sunday. There was no exaggerated dancing or gesturing from Sri Lanka’s captain; even the blond highlights on his bobbing, untamed mop of hair did not, for once, call attention to him.

The 30-year-old watched in delight as Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara were borne around the ground by the team; this was their night, and he had no desire to hog the limelight. Malinga is a quiet man, perma-smiling and polite with his answers in press-conferences.

It is only with the ball in hand, though, that he is anything but unobtrusive. Malinga’s wide yorkers and his four overs for 27 ruined India’s chances of a competitive total in the final. His last two overs yielded only nine runs, slowly throttling the Indian innings which lapsed into mediocrity.

It is true Yuvraj Singh did not cover himself in glory, spending an agonising 21 balls at the wicket for his 11, but Sri Lanka bowled tremendously well in that period.

Never before

Before the final group game against New Zealand, though, Malinga had never captained his country. He was only filling in for the suspended skipper Dinesh Chandimal, before the arrangement — Lahiru Thirimanne as replacement — proved so good that Sri Lanka persisted with it. It cannot have been an easy situation, but Malinga does not lack confidence.

“I’ve played in this team for 10 years; I know what each player’s ability is and what he can do,” he said after the win.

“I have used that experience. I have really enjoyed my captaincy over the last three games.”

There was nothing awkward, Malinga insisted, about leading four former captains and the serving Test and ODI skipper. “Every captain learns from his past captains; that’s how new captains become great leaders in the time to come,” he said.

“Great captains like Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara graduated under skippers like Arjuna (Ranatunga), Sanath (Jayasuriya) and Marvan Atapattu. I, too, had the same exposure and that helped us a great deal. I took over from Chandimal and I thought that I should get everyone’s help. That’s why we could win a World Cup after 1996. 

“Also, there is a feeling that a fast bowler cannot lead the team. I think I did justice for the pacers as well. If you can take wickets, you also have the ability to take up any responsibility on the cricket field.”

Till his match-winning fifty in the final, Sangakkara had laboured in the tournament, only managing scores of 14, 0, 4 and 1. Malinga was always confident, though, of his success.

“Sanga struggled in a few matches, not getting runs. I told him — you need one innings and you will win that match for us,” he said.

“When Muttiah Muralitharan retired, we could help him get that 800th (Test) wicket. Sanga and Mahela are two greats, just like Murali, and it’s a fitting gift that we could win the cup for them in their final T20 match.

“All the team and the support staff wanted to do something special for them today.”

Malinga was asked, cheerfully, if Bangladesh had been lucky for his men. His response was somewhat firm.

“People can say what they want,” he said. “Some say winning is luck, some say winning is talent. I really believe luck had nothing to do with our victory.

“We worked hard, we know our ability, and we know what we can do.

“Everyone is talented and everyone performed well, which is why we are the champions. I don’t believe in luck.”

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