“Apart from that six to bring up his maiden Test hundred, there was hardly any sign of arrogance from Mendis. He was the symbol of hope at the crease and when he was dismissed on the fourth morning after scoring 176, he had already instilled the hope and courage among his teammates to push for a win”
The second and third day of the first Test between England and Sri Lanka at Leeds was nightmarish for the visitors. The conditions were cold and gloomy, which made the ball to move prodigiously. The Sri Lankans were following on after a dismal reply to England’s first innings total of 298 and in their second, their story was not satisfactory as well. James Anderson made full use of the bowling-friendly conditions and scripted a carnage which led to a victory within three days.
Sri Lanka, following a dismal 91 in the first, were bowled out for just 119 and apart from a 21-year-old right-handed batsman, none of the Sri Lankan batters were able to exhibit the guts and skill against the agility of the English pacers. Despite the damp and chilly conditions, Mendis’ presence at the crease was more assured than most of his colleagues. He was very strong on the onside – executed some beautifully timed strokes through mid-on, midwicket, and square leg. Stuart Broad ended Mendis’ stabilizing act and his attractive knock of 53 was the highest score of the innings.
Sri Lanka’s England tour ended in despair and mentally the whole team was heavily exhausted and short of confidence. It was evident during the first innings of the first Test against Australia at Pallekele. It seemed, the Lankan batting line-up had not yet recovered from the horrors of the England tour as they were bundled out for just 117.
It was a decent track where a batsman was needed to spend time at the crease to graft an innings rather than rely too much on stroke-making. But the Lankans showed little knack to occupy the crease as Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Steve O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon made short work of them and hinted of a foregone conclusion.
The Australian batsmen too did not exhibit the right temperament. Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh, and O’Keefe fought hard to stretch the lead and when the Sri Lankan second innings started, it was all but the repetition of the first innings. Kusal Perera, Kaushal Silva, Dimuth Karunaratne and Angelo Mathews departed quickly and yet another shoddy performance was on the cards.
For a fairytale to happen, it requires a young Prince to step up and face the stiffest of challenges to rescue his kingdom, pride, and princess. Even when the chances are less, the Prince remains unflappable and decisive. He emancipates his ravishments in the most unique manner to achieve victories from the jaws of defeat. His confidence and will power instill hope among others to dream big and chase the victory.
Kusal Mendis watched his fellow teammates walk to the pavilion and make the situation tough enough for the others to carry on. But the 21-year-old Mendis was unfazed by the quick fall of wickets and didn’t step back in playing his strokes. An attractive flick against Hazlewood in the third ball of the sixth over hinted of what was about to come.
All of a sudden, he was 34 off 34 balls but curbed his stroke-making instincts to a great extent when Kaushal Silva left the scene. In the 14th and 16th over, Starc tried to test him outside the off, but Mendis either left the ball or defended it and after ten dot balls, he scored another run. Resolve was needed to keep the fight going.
A superlative shot through the gully off Starc led Steve Smith to introduce spin. A sweep shot against O’Keefe brought up his half-century and the team’s score was just 66. The departure of Mathews after a while brought Dinesh Chandimal at the crease who essayed a freakish knock one year back against India at Galle to register one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of Test cricket.
Was Mendis influenced by the presence of Chandimal?
One can guess so, but the nature of Mendis’ doesn’t say so. While Chandimal was aggressive and took risks, Mendis was more composed and organized while grafting his innings. Chandimal’s real contribution was his act as the sheet anchor to support Mendis and help him to galvanize his innings from a mere stroke-ful knock into an epic.
The beauty of Mendis’ knock was his timing and attitude. Each of the strokes was timed well and he displayed the ideal attitude. He showed no intention to take risks but used his strength as much as possible. He is very strong on the onside and thus, fetched enough boundaries through that region by dishing out a pull shot which was unconventional.
He executed the pull shot almost with a horizontal bat – he went behind the line of the ball quickly and opened the face of the bat, not fully but in a more angled fashion, to contact the ball from the middle part and the ball raced towards the boundary. It’s tough to play such shots, but if one gets behind the line and times the ball well, it’s a treat for the eyes.
Moreover, his ability to pivot on the back foot with authority and play the shot in depth-touches was another spectacle. Being an astute willow-wielder on the back foot and scripting off the back foot stroke-plays and pushes via depth-touches are a rarity in the subcontinent, but Mendis seemed to be one of those rare gems who is blessed with authority over his back foot – a uniqueness which is expected to mature with the passage of time.
Spending time at the crease was very important at Pallekele, and Mednis was quick to realize this fact. The track was not supporting boundary-based batting, therefore rotation of the strike is ideal here to stitch partnerships. Mendis’ patience helped him to travel through the testing periods and stitch two vital partnerships which changed the course of this match.
Apart from that six to bring up his maiden Test hundred, there was hardly any sign of arrogance from Mendis. He was the symbol of hope at the crease and when he was dismissed on the fourth morning after scoring 176, he had already instilled the hope and courage among his teammates to push for a win.
Peter Nevill and O’Keefe’s 4-run partnership of 178 balls made the contest more dramatic, but it could not halt a Sri Lankan victory. Had this Test match saved by the defiant stand of Nevill and O’Keefe, it would have an injustice to the courage, patience, and elegance of a 21-year-old Prince who fought a great battle to rescue his kingdom and pride.