Former India spin great Bishan Bedi says Sri Lanka's Ajantha Mendis has the potential to claim 500 career wickets, and is excited by the way the baffling bowler has invigorated the art of spin.
Bedi said Mendis "is a delight to watch", even though the Sri Lankan newcomer's success had come at the expense of Bedi's native India in the current tour.
"His variation seems unreal, he could snare 500 wickets by the time people are able to figure him out," Bedi said. "There are few quality spinners on the horizon, and I'm a great admirer of the spinning craft exhibited by Mendis." Mendis, 23, has the beguiling and rare ability to deliver both off-breaks and leg-breaks with little change to his action, forcing batsmen to guess which way the ball would turn.
In the recent test series, Mendis claimed 26 scalps to break the long-standing world record for the most wickets in a debut three-test series and lead Sri Lanka to a 2-1 series victory. He has continued that form in the ongoing one-day series, claiming five wickets in the opening two games to take his tally to 25 wickets in 10 games.
"He's not looking for dot balls, he's looking for a wicket with every delivery," said Bedi, who took a then Indian record of 266 wickets from 67 tests.
"The way he bamboozled India's batsmen in the tests was amazing."
Bedi's celebration of Mendis came in marked contrast to the his regular strong criticism of Sri Lanka's test world-record wicket taker Muttiah Muralitharan, whom he had often accused of "chucking" by bending his arm in the bowling action. Teaming up with Muralitharan, test rookie Mendis had confounded Indian batsmen of the caliber of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly.
Former India captain Ajit Wadekar said Mendis' destruction of the much-vaunted Indian batting lineup demonstrated that even the world's top batsmen were losing the ability to play top spinners due to underexposure to the longer form of the game.
"The Indian batsmen have come across a pair of top class spinners after a long time," said Wadekar. "They'll have to concentrate more and plan better to save themselves from embarrassment.
"It amazes me why the Indian batsmen are trying to read Mendis by the length of his deliveries. They ought to be watching the bowler's wrist and fingers, but our batsmen are trying to reach the pitch of the ball."
Asked why India's batsmen had faltered so badly despite having a reputation for being adept to playing spin, Bedi said "it's probably because they haven't played against quality spinners over a long duration."
"Any way, how many of these Indian test players regularly play domestic cricket?"
Bedi also sensed a lack of commitment among India's veterans, saying it appeared "a lot of the Indian players have had their fill."
"The fire in the belly seems to be diminishing and that's a dangerous sign," he said.
Wadekar claimed India did not prepare properly ahead of the tour, blaming the increasing amount of Twenty20 cricket for robbing the players of sufficient rest and an opportunity to rejig their technique for test and 50-over play.
"The arrival of Twenty20 cricket in a big way has surely diverted the players' attention," said Wadekar. "Also, they had little time to prepare for the test series and that led to the dismal performance."
Bedi echoed the assertion, saying the crowded itinerary and simplicity of Twenty20 cricket was undermining the team. "Twenty20 doesn't need much commitment. You've got to bat for a short duration and you just need to bowl four overs," said Bedi. "But the problem is the burnout caused by the surfeit of matches played during the summer months."