Lanka's Mendis spins a mystery
Ajantha Mendis destroyed India with a haul of six wickets for 13 in the final of the Asia Cup, and has become the talking point ahead of the series against India.cricket Updated: Jul 22, 2008 16:10 IST
Unorthodox Sri Lanka spinner Ajantha Mendis, who has confounded batsmen with his range of variations without a perceptible change in his action, has become the talking point ahead of the test series against India.
Mendis, 23, destroyed India with a haul of six wickets for 13 in the final of the Asia Cup one-day competition and should make his test debut in the series starting on Wednesday in Colombo.
"Let's face it, we were just clueless against him and his variations and it was tough on the batsmen," India's one-day captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni told a news conference following the 100-run cup defeat earlier this month.
"We were playing him for the first time and the batsmen just couldn't pick him."
Mendis, who has played eight one-day internationals, bowls a mixture of off-breaks, leg-breaks, googlies, top-spinners and a new variation dubbed the 'carrom ball', which he flicks with the third finger, that batsmen have found difficult to pick.
"I don't know where we find these people but once in a way, once in 10 years, we get these special bowlers coming from nowhere," Sri Lanka's 1996 World Cup-winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga said during a promotional event in Mumbai.
"I think we are blessed with them."
Big-spinning Muttiah Muralitharan, 36, who holds the world record for most number of test wickets (735), perplexed batsmen the world over with the 'doosra', a delivery that spins the opposite way from the conventional direction.
"He is another sensation. Like Murali, he is another --- as much as I am not comfortable with the word -- freak bowler. He is a freak," said Ranatunga, whose leadership has often been credited for Muralitharan's development into a world-class spinner.
"He (Mendis) has five different deliveries and he is mastering one more," Ranatunga, now Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) board chairman, said, his eyes brightening as he went on to describe the new sensation.
"It is very interesting: the batsman will have to be at him all the time. You cannot lose concentration."
Sri Lanka, who host India for three tests followed by a five-match one-day series, named Mendis in their 14-man squad for the first test on Monday.
India's test captain Anil Kumble was confident that his famed middle-order would cope with Mendis, who was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant in the Sri Lankan Army after his Asia Cup performance.
"Our middle order has more than 30,000 test runs and four of them have played more than 100 tests," Kumble told reporters in Colombo, referring to Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Vangipurrapu Laxman, who has actually played 93 tests.
"In tests you get more time to figure out the bowler. It will be challenging, but I am sure our batsmen will cope," said Kumble, himself an unconventional leg-spinner.
Ranatunga expects Mendis's battle with the Indians, traditionally considered good players of spin, to be riveting.
"I think the way they handle him will be a key factor," Ranatunga said.
"I think it will be a challenge for this young man... It'll be interesting to see how he fares against players of the calibre of Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman and Dravid."
Mendis would have the benefit of the experienced Muralitharan bowling from the other end in tests, Ranatunga said.
"In my time we didn't have so many match-winning bowlers," he added.
Mendis, born in Moratuwa, a city on the southwestern coast of the island, was reportedly fast-tracked after his unconventional skills were noticed last year by coaches of the national cricket academy when he was playing in the B division league.
"From the day we spotted him, he had all the variations. Not only was he gifted, he was also very calm and always ready to listen," Anusha Samaranayake, pace-bowling coach at the academy, told the Indian Express newspaper.
Mendis announced his arrival on the international stage with three for 39 off 10 overs against the West Indies in a one-day series in the Caribbean in April.
Mendis played down comparisons with Muralitharan, alongside whom he bowled in the Asia Cup final.
"Murali is a legend who has gone very far," Mendis said in his native tongue, which was translated by Ranatunga.
"I have just started. He is my hero and I look forward to the opportunity to bowl along with him in tests."