In Mumbai Test cricket was left poorer last afternoon when Sri Lankan fast bowler Lasith Malinga, at 27 years and 237 days, decided to retire from the five-day format.
The bowler, caught in the raging club-versus-country debate said his goodbyes through a statement issued yesterday.
Malinga’s call to make himself unavailable for the Sri Lankan team’s Test tour of England citing injury and then continuing to bowl his toe crushers for Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League has raised eyebrows and even the Sri Lankan chief selector Duleep Mendis found his decision a bit “awkward”.
The bowler was being pilloried for his decision to stick with his cash-rich club rather than turn out for Sri Lanka in whites. Malinga, however, cleared the air in his statement (see box).
By announcing his retirement at a time when the Sri Lanka Cricket, Board of Control for Cricket in India, the IPL and the fans are hotly debating the country-club debate, Malinga has perhaps made himself a fair game for those blaming the lure of the lucre, which IPL has on offer, for a young man like him to end a promising career unexpectedly.
Malinga’s reason for quitting Test cricket, however, hasn’t surprised those who have witnessed him bloom into one of the finest if not freakish bowlers the game has ever seen.
During the recent World Cup, where he had left the hapless Kenyans look like sitting ducks with a six-wicket haul including a hat-trick, his coach Champaka Ramanayake was quoted in the Sri Lankan press as saying that he would be happy if his favourite pupil plays for another three to
“Considering the amount of cricket that is played today it is difficult for anyone to maintain a high level of fitness consistently.
“Every fast bowler goes through some kind of injuries during his career with Malinga’s technique if he can maintain his fitness well he will be able to play for another 3-4 years,” Ramanayake who is presently the Sri Lanka team’s fast bowling coach said was quoted as saying.
The fact that he has played only 30 Tests since making his debut in 2004 only gives credence to his decision to walk away.
A former Sri Lanka selector, who was part of the selection committee that had picked the World Cup squad and has closely followed Malinga’s career chart wasn’t surprised the bowler’s decision to end his career on aburpt note.
“This isn’t totally unexpected and to blame just the IPL will be an injustice to the player who has always given his hundred per cent.
“There was a time in 2007 when forget about playing, he couldn’t even walk properly. “It has been due to hard work put in by him and his doctors that he has kept on playing.
“Doctors had told him clearly that he cannot take too much work load and bowl long spells. If you see, he didn’t play any Test cricket between 2007 and 2010.
“In the last Test series against India too he played the first Test, missed the second and then played the third.
“With him it had always been about management. I don’t think that he had any choice. To be very frank, I think he had no choice,” the former selector told Mumbai Mirror. Hence, it’ll only be simplistic to say that it was the IPL riches that made him ditch his own country.
In January of this year I wrote a letter to Sri Lanka Cricket confirming that I planned to reassess my Test future after the World Cup. After the tournament I decided that I needed to make myself unavailable for Test cricket in an effort to prolong my career as a national cricketer for Sri Lanka.
Although I am sufficiently fit to play both ODI and T20 cricket, I have a long-standing degenerative condition in my right knee that needs to be carefully managed.
The condition relates directly to the chronic knee injury I sustained playing for Sri Lanka in Australia back in Feb 2008, an injury that prevented me from playing ODIs for 16 months.
The injury was a career-threatening injury and my orthopaedic surgeon was of the opinion that given his experience with other professional athletes in Australia I was very fortunate to play again.
I have since been advised by the national team physiotherapist and my orthopaedic consultant that my condition will deteriorate when fielding or bowling for prolonged periods. I did try to return to Test cricket after a three-year absence last year following requests from the team management and the selectors, but it left me unfit nursing severe knee pain for two months.
I have carefully considered my options and have decided that not playing Test cricket will help me achieve my goal of representing Sri Lanka in the 2012 World Twenty20 and the 2015 World Cup. While representing Sri Lanka in as many ICC events as possible is my priority, I am fully available for selection for all Sri Lanka’s ODI and T20 matches.