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Pathirana the point of difference against Malinga's Mumbai

CSK's Sri Lankan 'slinga' too good as Lasith Malinga watches his copycat from Mumbai's dugout

S Sudarshanan
S Sudarshanan
On the eve of the Mumbai Indians vs Chennai Super Kings game, Lasith Malinga was doing his thing. He stood still behind the single stump at the bowler's end as Nuwan Thushara ran in and tried to hit the shoe placed at the striker's end. It was a drill that Malinga used to use, and he was using it to help the new Sri Lankan slinga, Thushara, get it right.
It's a method that has now caught on.
In the adjacent CSK nets, their own slingin' Sri Lankan, Matheesha Pathirana, was not to be seen. A hamstring niggle had kept him off the field. He played two matches before being sidelined and head coach Stephen Fleming wanted him to play against MI only if he was 100% fit. So no training on Saturday.
It's understandable that CSK want to have Pathirana in their XI. Their death bowling had cost them games in the past, and their search for a reliable, long-term solution ended with Pathirana. His pinpoint yorkers and change-ups have been hard to get away, and his economy of 8.17 at the death is only bettered by Yuzvendra Chahal's 7.73 among those who have bowled at least 15 overs in the last four overs since IPL 2023. Pathirana's temperament under pressure has impressed one and all, including MS Dhoni, who had suggested that "he shouldn't even get close to red-ball cricket".
Pathirana was fit enough by Sunday to make the XI, and it was natural, then, for captain Ruturaj Gaikwad to call upon him when MI were seemingly running away with the chase of 207. Rohit Sharma and Ishan Kishan had blitzed to 70 in seven overs when Pathirana was handed the ball. He had to bring his death game alive early. The home team was cruising and, despite being outnumbered by CSK fans, the MI fans were the noisier bunch at that point.
His first ball was an attempted yorker that turned into a low full toss. It was on Kishan's pads. He could have smacked it anywhere but flicked it straight to midwicket. A ball later, Suryakumar Yadav was slightly taken aback by the bouncer and, yet, managed to uppercut it. But Mustafizur Rahman took a well-judged catch at deep third to send Suryakumar back for a two-ball blob. Within just three balls, Pathirana had changed the script.
"I was really pleased with his accuracy tonight, he was outstanding. I said to him afterwards, the wickets are a bonus, but his accuracy was really good. Sometimes you'll bowl accurately but not get wickets. Tonight, he was accurate and got wickets"
Eric Simons
"What I have noticed from last year and the first time I saw Pathirana is he is a far more well-rounded bowler now," Mitchell McClenaghan observed on ESPNcricinfo's TimeOut. "He doesn't just come in and try and bowl yorkers. He has got a good-length ball and a bouncer now. [With the bouncer to Suryakumar] he was trying to not let him get forward."
With Tilak Varma then joining forces with Rohit to keep MI in the hunt, Pathirana was summoned again for the 14th over. He delivered to end the 60-run partnership by dismissing Tilak, thanks to a tumbling catch running backward from mid-off by Shardul Thakur. A few overs later, Pathirana fired in a fuller ball to splay Romario Shepherd's stumps. The chase had well and truly been derailed.
With Pathirana's action, there is a tendency to be wayward and bowl wides down leg, but on Sunday, he was accurate. He was especially clear in his methods and bowled to the field with the longer boundary on the leg side (for a right-hander) throughout his spell.
"I was really pleased with his accuracy tonight, he was outstanding," Eric Simons, CSK bowling consultant, said at the press conference. "I said to him afterwards, the wickets are a bonus, but his accuracy was really good. Sometimes you'll bowl accurately but not get wickets. Tonight, he was accurate and got wickets."
But, with his action being what it is, can he not get predictable? How does remain unique?
"I give him a target and tell him to hit the target. How he does it, he works his own technique out for himself," Simons explained. "That's how we do it. I give him a glove, hit the glove. I give him a target at the bottom of the pitch, he hits the target.
"When you've watched someone a lot you pick up little things and act like a mirror almost for some people, and you see something's a bit different. I don't try and coach internally. I don't tell him how to do it, I tell him what to do and he tries and works it himself. His accuracy tonight was the most rewarding for me.
"Allow him to be unique, don't try to figure him out."
On the way to Gate 5 of the Wankhede Stadium before the game, a group of fans in blue were talking about Malinga. Little did they know that a slinga would undo Mumbai on their own turf and be the point of difference in a game Jasprit Bumrah was also a part of.

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Sudarshanan7