“I couldn’t kiss the lion! If I kept kissing the lion after taking wickets, I would have been a hero. I didn’t learn to do such fake display. I just wanted to take wickets. If I took two wickets yesterday, I wanted to take four today. I didn’t want show a different face to the media. I have the same face within and beyond the boundary.” says Sri Lanka’s speedster Lasith Malinga.
Lasith Malinga picture via his Facebook
When I read this interview in Ravaya, a Sinhala weekly, on November 13th, 2016, I was happily surprised to see a great deal of genuineness and intelligence in Malinga’s answers to the journalist. Recently, Malinga has been criticized in the Sinhala press for being money-minded and putting league cricket above national duty. Yet, I always felt that Malinga has been one of the cricketers greatly misunderstood by national and nationalist media. The interviewer, Bangagamaaracchi, a very talented journalist, is able to show us Malinga, the man in the following interview. – Translator
[Interview with Lasith Malinga by Tiran Bangagamaracchi. Translated by Liyanage Amarakeerthi]
He is arrogant; outgoing, and also a man given to fashion. He talks straight and does not mince his words. For that very reason, media prey on him. No matter how media try to tame him. He is who he is.
He is Lasith Malinga.
He is as straight as a yoker.
Some people shrink their faces in fear when hearing the name “Rathgama” [ because it is considered a violent place populated by straight forward even violent people]. Having being born there, how do you feel about Rathgama?
Malinga: As everyone else from Rathgama I am also proud be from there. Everyone must be feeling that way about their own birth places. I am proud to be from Rathgama because it was the school that taught me from my boyhood to speak straight and to speak truth. It also helped me to understand society. People shrink in fear on hearing ‘Rathgama’ because it is an inherently thuggish place. People in my village speak truth, and they are even ready to die for truth. I have also inherited those qualities. I speak what I have to no matter whom it might make happy or unhappy. A lie can be told with a great deal of ornamentation and decoration. It is difficult to make the truth ornamented like that. That is why many people are afraid of truth. I can’t do anything about it. That is my nature inherited from my village, and I am proud of it.
How did you develop a liking for playing cricket?
By watching cricket. Since I was in grade five I watched older boys playing cricket. So I started playing. Not to enter the national team. I ‘lightly played light ball cricket’. But still I bowled with the same action that I bowl now. So I could bowl some unplayable deliveries, and I was a wicket-taking machine even then.
How did you get into leather ball cricket?
By accident! It was even after I became seventeen that I started playing with the leather ball. I was very studious before that, and I received distinctions for all the subjects in my GCE(Ordinary Level) exam. I had started my Advance Level in mathematics when I began playing leather ball cricket. In fact, I wanted to play leather ball cricket at the school, Vidyakara College, but they didn’t take me in. But I kept playing soft ball cricket during the lunch interval using a chair as the wicket. I was still a wicket-taking machine. While times passed that way, the master in charge of cricket at the school came to my class one day and said, “we have to go to match but one player is absent. I have seen you bowl well with a tennis ball. Would you join us?” By that time I hadn’t even touched the leather ball. But still I went along. I took fourteen wickets in that match. The umpire for that match was Mr. Keerthi Warnapriya, the head coach of Mahinda College, Galle. Later he had sent a message to one of my teachers that he would like to get me admitted to Mahinda College because he thought I had a good future in cricket. On that very day, the message came to our home too. My parents liked to admit me to Mahinda College. But there was an issue. I was already in a National school, the best tier of government school, studying mathematics and Mahinda College was also a National School. One cannot move out from one national school another to study the same subjects. So, I changed my subjects to Agricultural Sciences for the sake of cricket. Then, I had to get give up my formal education in order to play cricket. I am not sad about that today. I am happy in fact. But if I continued with my studies I would have reached the highest in that too because I have such a head.
Lasith Malinga picture via his Facebook
Then you were able to cut a road to come into Colombo to play cricket?
Yes. After spending about eight months at Mahinda College, I came to Colombo. I grew fast as a cricketer. After coming to Colombo, I couldn’t play under-nineteen matches. So I played for clubs. I took wickets in every match I played. In the meantime, I met Champaka Ramanayake. He was at the same club that I was a playing for. He gave me his spot in the club team because I took wickets. If it was not for Champaka Ramanayake there wouldn’t be a Lasith Malinga today. He later became my coach too.
Malinga, Is it easy to be a cricketer?
It is easy. But it is difficult to get into the national team.
To get into the national team, is it enough to be a good player?
A good question! Since I am in the national team I would avoid answering that question though. But let me tell you something else. Even if you get into the national team, it is very difficult to remain there. You must be successful as a player.
This journey of yours, is it a journey you made only by being a talented cricketer?
Yes. Indeed. I took wickets when I played inter club matches. So I could get into the national team. Even in international matches I took wickets. I did everything I could on behalf of the country. I have the belief that I am a player who could win a match even all by myself. I have proven that I can.
But you look lonely in the team. Aren’t you?
Do you see it that way? (Laughs) I do my best. I believe that I need to win matches even alone. Once we cross the boundary line and enter the ground we don’t have diverse ideas. Only idea is to win the game. I am like that.
Media relentlessly criticized you. Why was that?
I couldn’t be the person the media wanted. They think that we all have to behave the way they want. If we cross their line, they come after you. That’s what happened to me. While they were attacking me they said it was they who created me. I replied by saying that “why did you create only me? You could have created about ten like me.” They got even angrier. I say what I have to say. Media cannot create a cricketer. They can attract attention to themselves by promoting a cricketer that has been created already. I became cricketer with my own talents. I took wickets with my own talents. So, when the media say that they created me, what should I say? What I shouldn’t have said?
Where did you get things wrong, if you did?
I couldn’t kiss the lion! If I kept kissing the lion after taking wickets, I would have been a hero. I didn’t learn to do such fake display. I just wanted to take wickets. If I took two wickets yesterday, I wanted to take four today. I didn’t want show a different face to the media. I have the same face within and beyond the boundary.
No one else but you said, “Yes. I play cricket for money.”
Yes. I say that even today. I don’t lie that I play for the country. A national team does indeed play for the county. But we are professional cricketers. This is my profession. I train myself all day for that profession. I get paid for playing. And we make money and get paid a portion from that money. I got paid the same salary paid to some others. But the talk was that Malinga is playing for money. Then, others played for free? I didn’t get even five cents more than the others. This is a job. I do my job well as long as I am there. I do that honestly. After we retire, we don’t have pensions. So, we need to make money to live comfortably in retirement. One shouldn’t calculate this much for a run or this much for wicket and so on. A cricketer has to sweat so much in training for years to be able to make that run or to take that wicket. One has to leave one’s familial obligations aside to commit oneself to cricket. If everyone else talked straight as I do, this profession would have been so much improved. What I say today will appear to be true in future.
You are into fashion, aren’t you?
Yes. But that is only externally. When I was younger I also applied coconut oil to my hair and parted it in the middle and combed it sideways! But after I got out of school, I thought I would do some fashions in a way that wouldn’t hurt anyone. So I went on a tour to the West Indies with my hair colored and wearing an ear ring. You know what? They accepted me as one of their own. I took so many wickets too. But some people here hung on to my hair. What I am asking is this: See whether I am talented and effective. Don’t look at my hair. There is no book saying that one cannot play cricket wearing ear rings or coloring one’s hair. Is there? One more thing, one cannot get wickets just because one has ear rings or colored hair. Like I said, I do my fashions. If anyone says that my doing fashions hurts our culture I don’t know what culture is in this country. I do my fashions but they are not just outward or external façade. My fashion is still me.
According to you, what is ‘the gentleman’s sport’?
For me, it means playing your game in the ground with discipline. During all my cricketing life I have never been found guilty of breaching the ICC codes of conduct. So, I am a gentleman cricketer. Am I not? To play cricket with discipline is to be a gentleman cricketer. I have been that kind of a gentleman. But I don’t show off as a gentleman. [These criticisms of my behavior] are the work of some media gentlemen who don’t know a thing about being a gentleman.
Are you angry with media?
I am not angry with them. I don’t have any particular friendship with them either. But What I am saying is that one shouldn’t talk about the kernel just by touching the peel. I may be the most criticized cricketer in history. But I have achieved so much as well. I was the captain when we won the T20 World Cup. I have taken 397 ODI wickets. I have set four world records in T20s. Those are records I set in matches where Sri Lanka won. I am the only person to stick with the same team in IPL. They take me in at Big Bash or BPL. Not matter for whom I play, I do my job honestly. Some people claim that I play better at IPL. Such nonsense makes me laugh really! All these private leagues hire me because I have played well for my country.
Are you a rich man now?
Yes. I am.
After you get out of cricket?
I have the foundation needed to live my head held high.
Are cricketers teetotalers?
I will talk only about myself. You might not believe me, I don’t drink even a little bit of champagne. I don’t even think about drinking. And I am not against drinking either. Those who drink are entitled to do so.
Some cricketers enter politics. Would you do that one day?
Never! I am not suitable for something as noble as politics. Who I am to rule the country?(Here Malinga is playing with the Sinhala word “deshapalanaya, politics, which literary means “ruling the country)
You worship the ball before bowling. Why do you do that?
Even though I don’t go to temples, I am a good Buddhist. I worship the ball that was what helped me to get here. It was because of the ball I live this comfortable life. I love cricket more than myself. Cricket ball has given me everything. Then is it sinful to worship the cricket ball?
There is a rumor in the field that you take your parents on foreign tours?
Yes. They also like to visit other countries as we all do. These are times that I can afford to spend some money. So, I take them to places at own expense. I must make them happy. After all, they are the ones who created a Lasith Malinga.
What is your word of wisdom or advice for our readers?
May be it is difficult to be happy looking at others’ success. But at least, try not to be jealous of others. That itself is a great thing.