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Caught in Ajantha’s web

Regardless of the questions thrown at him, Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni keep uttering the name of Ajantha Mendis, the mysterious spinner, reports Subhash Rajta.
Hindustan Times | By Subhash Rajta, Karachi
UPDATED ON JUL 08, 2008 12:21 AM IST

Regardless of the questions thrown at him, Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni kept uttering the name of Ajantha Mendis, the mysterious spinner.

“We were just helpless…had absolutely no clue about him…just didn’t know what to expect, played for something else and it turned out to be something else,” he grieved.

The helplessness in the voice left one wondering if the glowing description of Mendis was a ploy to cover up the meek surrender of his batsmen, or were the Indians genuinely stunned by the rookie bowler.

Either way, it was a huge compliment for the bowler who created a flutter, something no other bowler from the island has managed after Muttiah Muralitharan.

It would be a sacrilege to compare Mendis with the legend and even Sri Lankan skipper Mahela Jayawardene said it was too early to think of a comparison.

But there was no doubt in the skipper’s mind on Mendis’s talent and the bright future that awaits him.

“He is a confident and hard working bowler. He will enjoy international cricket and will go a long way,” said Jayawardene.

Having seen his craft, one is tempted to say that Mendis has the potential to carry forward the legacy of the great master. How successfully, time will tell.

The high hopes emanate from the characteristics he shares with Muralitharan. The first and foremost has to be his unconventional style, a hallmark of Murali as well. Muralitharan had deceived former Australian captain Allan Border into mistaking him for a leg-spinner, now Mendis is testing the batsmen as they try to decipher the stuff he sends down.

Like Muralitharan, Mendis loves to attack and isn’t afraid of going for runs. “I was surprised by the fact that he always wanted more close-in fielders than I actually wanted to have. He is very confident and is just not afraid,” said Jayawardene.

Though the future look rosy for the young spinner, this is just the beginning and things could go wrong in an instant at this level.

Mendis may have enjoyed much of his success due to his uniqueness, but the novelty will gradually wear out.

Jayawardene said batsmen would gradually get used to him and would be better prepared in future.

“The real challenge will begin now and he’ll need to keep working hard,” He said.

Jayawardene’s right, but genuine talent is always tough to deal with, no matter how much the batsmen prepare themselves.

Muralitharan has been on the circuit for close to two decades, but has facing him got easier from his early days? “It’s one thing to read and pick up what Murali bowls, and an altogether different matter to play him,” said Jayawardene, putting the issue in perspective.

Well, that should be music to the off spinner’s ears.

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