HT Image
HT Image

Ajantha Mendis: The surprise hero

The Sri Lankan bowler, who floored India at the Asia Cup, was unleashed as a secret weapon in the final. But how come nobody knew about him, Anand Vasu asks?
By Anand Vasu | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JUL 12, 2008 03:25 AM IST

That Ajantha Mendis took the cricket world by storm with his matchwinning performance in the final of the Asia Cup did not come as a surprise to those who have been watching him in Sri Lanka over the last couple of years.

The reasons for his success are quite clear — he is extremely unusual in the way he bowls, he was kept back from the Indians in the league match and sprung on them in the final, and some of India’s young batsmen played regrettable shots. What is a surprise is that in this day and age someone was kept far enough away from the limelight till a big occasion like the final of an ODI tournament.

Today, when every cricketer is hailed as the next big thing even when he makes small strides in domestic cricket, the temptation to talk up Mendis must have been high, but to Sri Lanka’s credit, they resisted, and reaped the rewards.

Balapuwaduge Ajantha Winslo Mendis, only 23, first began to be noticed when he made his debut for the Sri Lankan Army in a 50-over domestic match in late 2006. But his first game was anything but eventful and he ended with seven wicketless overs. What did catch the eye was his manner of delivery.

Across the subcontinent, when cricket is played on the streets, usually with a tennis ball, spinners use their fingers in dextrous ways to vary the direction of spin. The soft ball allows bowlers to bend a finger back while holding the ball, and flick it at the point of delivery, in much the same action that is used to send a carom striker in the direction of a coin. That Mendis could do this with a cricket ball, and accurately, set him apart from others, who normally resort to conventional methods when they have to graduate to the hard ball.

Amazingly, when he made his first-class debut soon after, he again went wicketless in 24 overs, but the army kept its faith. Since then, till he made his international debut, Mendis has picked up 111 wickets from only 19 matches at a staggering average of 14.54 and a strike-rate of a wicket every 33 balls.

“The thing with Ajantha is that he has served with the army. He has seen things you and I only read about in the newspapers,” Kumar Sangakkara said of Mendis. “Those are the kind of things that will toughen you up. With the situation in Sri Lanka being what it is, that is real pressure, not playing cricket.”

All along, the one strength Mahela Jayawardene underscored in his young bowler was “the ability to take punishment”, even as he sought to downplay the hype around Mendis. Jayawardene was one of those who was not taken aback at Mendis’ success. “Mendis is something special and for a while I've been telling some of the guys to look out for him.”

Trevor Bayliss, the Australian who coaches Sri Lanka, was as befuddled as some of India’s batsmen. “I could tell you about his variations if I knew what they were,” he answered frankly soon after Mendis had left the West Indies in come discomfort earlier in the year.

But what will give batsmen around the world a moment for pause is just how uncannily similar the methods of Mendis and Anil Kumble are. It sounds odd at first, and how the two bowlers achieve their ends is different, but the result is remarkably similar. Both bowl stump to stump from what appears to be a medium-pacer’s run up. Both don’t spin the ball a great deal, but just enough, both ways, to beat the bat. Both succeed more often with the ball that does not turn, but rather skids on quickly and straight.

At the moment, Kumble and Mendis are separated by an ocean of international achievement. For Mendis, the future begins now, when he will be closely scrutinised and his action analysed by all manner of experts with all the technological aids available. Soon people will be able to pick him and his variations, and they will know what is coming at them. Whether they will then be able to keep the ball out is the big question.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
app
Close
Live
IND vs AUS 4th Test Live Score, Day 2 Latest Updates(AP)
IND vs AUS 4th Test Live Score, Day 2 Latest Updates(AP)

IND vs AUS Live Score, 4th Test, Day 2: Paine departs after scoring fifty

By hindustantimes.com
UPDATED ON JAN 16, 2021 06:36 AM IST
IND vs AUS 4th Test Live Score, Day 2 Latest Updates: Tim Paine was dismissed by Shardul Thakur after he scored his 9th fifty. Paine and Cameron Green gave the Aussies a solid start and took them past 300 on Day 2. Follow live score and updates of India vs Australia 4th Test Day 2.
Arjun Tendulkar(Twitter)
Arjun Tendulkar(Twitter)

Arjun Tendulkar gets maiden wicket on Mumbai debut, video goes viral

By hindustantimes.com
UPDATED ON JAN 15, 2021 08:28 PM IST
Arjun Tendulkar got the wicket of Haryana opener CK Bishnoi in the first delivery of his second over when the left-hander nicked one to keeper Aditya Tare in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy match.
Close
Kuldeep Yadav bowling in the nets. (Getty Images)
Kuldeep Yadav bowling in the nets. (Getty Images)

'Not good selection,' Former India quick not impressed with Kuldeep's omission

By hindustantimes.com, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 15, 2021 01:35 PM IST
  • India vs Australia: India made four changes to their Playing XI but the one name that went missing from the team sheet was that of chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav.
Close
India's Washington Sundar reacts after bowling on day one of the fourth cricket Test match between Australia and India at the Gabba in Brisbane(AFP)
India's Washington Sundar reacts after bowling on day one of the fourth cricket Test match between Australia and India at the Gabba in Brisbane(AFP)

‘Seems like Ashwin gave Sundar guru-mantra on how to dismiss Smith’

By hindustantimes.com
PUBLISHED ON JAN 15, 2021 09:32 PM IST
Impressed with his stellar bowling show on debut, former Indian pacer Zaheer Khan suggested that Sundar might have received tips from Ashwin before going into the game at The Gabba
Close
Sunil Gavaskar(Twitter)
Sunil Gavaskar(Twitter)

'It has been happening since 1932': Gavaskar highlights problem of India bowlers

By hindustantimes.com
UPDATED ON JAN 15, 2021 02:38 PM IST
Sunil Gavaskar praised the India bowling unit which was without their first-XI players but was critical for letting the advantage slip away. Gavaskar said not being able to take the final five wickets quickly has been a problem for India since 1932.
Close
Marnus Labuschagne of Australia celebrates scoring a century during day one of the fourth test match between Australia and India at the Gabba in Brisbane, (REUTERS)
Marnus Labuschagne of Australia celebrates scoring a century during day one of the fourth test match between Australia and India at the Gabba in Brisbane, (REUTERS)

Brisbane Test: Labuschagne ton takes Australia to 274 for 5 at stumps on Day 1

PTI
PUBLISHED ON JAN 15, 2021 01:22 PM IST
India vs Australia: Labuschagne's 204-ball knock had nine boundaries. He was dropped on 37 by Ajinkya Rahane off the bowling of Navdeep Saini.
Close
India's Hanuma Vihari plays a shot on the 5th day of the third test match between Australia and India, at Sydney Cricket Ground on Monday(HT Photo)
India's Hanuma Vihari plays a shot on the 5th day of the third test match between Australia and India, at Sydney Cricket Ground on Monday(HT Photo)

BCCI wishes Hanuma Vihari a 'speedy recovery' as he heads back home

By hindustantimes.com
UPDATED ON JAN 15, 2021 07:12 PM IST
Indian batsman Hanuma Vihari was ruled out of the final Test against Australia after suffering a hamstring injury at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Close
India's Washington Sundar, left, is congratulated by teammate Rishabh Pant following play on the first day of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. (AP)
India's Washington Sundar, left, is congratulated by teammate Rishabh Pant following play on the first day of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. (AP)

'Glad it worked': Sundar reveals how he got Steve Smith out with a 'plan'

By hindustantimes.com
UPDATED ON JAN 15, 2021 07:23 PM IST
Handed his Test debut after an injury to India's premier off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, Washington Sundar, who was with the Indian Test side as a net-bowler, grabbed the opportunity with both hands by giving an Indian important breakthrough of Steve Smith
Close
Photo of Indian left-arm pacer T Natarajan(Twitter)
Photo of Indian left-arm pacer T Natarajan(Twitter)

Natarajan sets unique record after making his Test debut in Brisbane

By hindustantimes.com
UPDATED ON JAN 15, 2021 05:26 PM IST
Natarajan was one of the rookies who was named in India’s playing XI for the final Test against Australia in Brisbane
Close
Mohammed Siraj complaining about a racial attack to umpire Paul Reiffel at the SCG(Getty Images)
Mohammed Siraj complaining about a racial attack to umpire Paul Reiffel at the SCG(Getty Images)

India cricketers Siraj, Sundar abused by Gabba crowd: Report

By hindustantimes.com | PTI
UPDATED ON JAN 15, 2021 04:47 PM IST
According to an Australian daily, India cricketers Mohammed Siraj and Washington Sundar were abused by a section of the crowd at Gabba in Brisbane on Day 1 of the fourth India-Australia Test.
Close
Live
Australia's Tim Paine, right, hits the ball at India's Mayank Agarwal during play on the first day of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba.(AP)
Australia's Tim Paine, right, hits the ball at India's Mayank Agarwal during play on the first day of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba.(AP)

4th Test, Day 1 Highlights: Australia 274/5 at Stumps

By hindustantimes.com
UPDATED ON JAN 16, 2021 04:48 AM IST
  • IND vs AUS 4th Test, Day 1 Highlights: Marnus Labuschagne got to his century after Tea but lost his wicket soon. Natarajan also dismissed Wade just before completing his fifty. Paine and Green then batted the day out for Australia.
England Test captain Joe Root scores a century against Sri Lanka on Day 2 of first Test in Galle(Twitter)
England Test captain Joe Root scores a century against Sri Lanka on Day 2 of first Test in Galle(Twitter)

England leads Sri Lanka by 185 on back of Root's century

AP
PUBLISHED ON JAN 15, 2021 06:05 PM IST
Root was unbeaten on 168 off 254 balls and Lawrence made 73 off 150 balls with England cruising to 320-4 before rain denied further play on Day 2 after tea.
Close
File photo of Prithvi Shaw(AP)
File photo of Prithvi Shaw(AP)

Shaw brutally trolled on Twitter after his throw hits India opener

By hindustantimes.com
UPDATED ON JAN 15, 2021 04:31 PM IST
While Prithvi’s throw left the commentators in splits, people on social media erupted with their views on the incident. Meanwhile, many Twitterati claimed that this is how the youngster is trying to make a comeback in the playing XI.
Close
Kerala pacer S Sreesanth staring at Mumbai opener Yashasvi Jaiswal during a Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy match(Twitter)
Kerala pacer S Sreesanth staring at Mumbai opener Yashasvi Jaiswal during a Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy match(Twitter)

Sreesanth tries to sledge Yashasvi Jaiswal, gets a fitting reply from youngster

By hindustantimes.com
UPDATED ON JAN 15, 2021 05:58 PM IST
Yashavi played a 40-run knock while some major contributions from Suryakumar Yadav (38) and Aditya tare (42) guided Mumbai to 196 for 7 in their quota of 20 overs.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP