“However, if Mendis is given a long rope at No. 3 for Sri Lanka he is sure to mesmerise the world with some magnificent innings. The question is, when will that happen? The quicker Sri Lanka figure out their best XI and their batting order, the faster they can begin winning Test matches consistently”
It was against West Indies that it all began at the international level for Kusal Mendis in 2015 and it is against the same side, he went on to show the world, more importantly to his teammates as to how to apply themselves under tricky conditions. West Indies by no stretch of the imagination are a world class side, but when they collectively play together as a team, they can cause some serious damages. That is exactly what they did in the first Test at Port of Spain. Their batting, bowling and also fielding clicked and as a result, walked away with a massive 226-run win.
Amidst all this, there was a 23-year-old, who was trying to salvage some pride for Sri Lanka. Mendis had decent outings in the ODI series against Bangladesh and scored a couple of fifties in his 4 innings in the Nidahas Trophy. He had scored 196, 68 and 7 before the West Indies tour in the three innings he played against Bangladesh in Tests as well. Mendis in his short international career has shown that he is hungry for big scores. He likes to fight it out for his team and earn his runs. At the highest level, getting every run is going to be difficult, but Mendis with gallons of talent has on many occasions stood tall for his team.
His maiden hundred – 176 against Australia at Pallekele – is perhaps the best innings he has played. With wickets falling thick and fast at the other end, Mendis held one end up and frustrated the Australian bowlers. Before that innings Mendis had show potential, but never converted that into anything substantial. He had just one fifty from his 13 innings and averaged a shade under 29. Nothing special, right? But little did the Aussies know what was about to hit them. Knowing that playing out time will not save the match, Mendis scored runs every opportunity. The likes of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood or Nathan Lyon did not intimidate the youngster as he scored freely. He got some support from the lower order and as a result, Sri Lanka set Australia a 268-run target and went on to win the match by 106 runs.
Out of his 5 Test hundreds, he has three 150-plus scores, which includes two 190s. However, Sri Lanka are yet to determine his spot in the batting order. He has batted in every position from 1 to 5. But No. 3 will be the ideal spot for him. Given his temperament, he can absorb the pressure if he is in early or he can keep the scorecard ticking if Sri Lanka have made a steady start. Even India’s No. 3 Cheteshwar Pujara has done well in his limited chances as an opener, but that does not mean that the openers in the squad will sit out to make way for him.
Sri Lanka do not have the services of Dimuth Karunaratne this time and it was evident that they missed him at Trinidad. A veteran of 148 First-Class matches, 8,000-plus runs, 31-year-old Mahela Udawatte has been named in the squad as a specialist opener. Sri Lanka could have sacrificed one of their bowlers – ideally Lahiru Gamage – to include Udawatte and have him open alongside Kusal Perera. Mendis, as a result, could have batted ant No. 3 and given Sri Lanka a little more depth in batting. Mendia at 3, Dinesh Chandimal at 4 and Angelo Mathews at 5 could make this Sri Lankan middle-order dangerous. For now, Sri Lanka seem to be a team still trying to find their feet at the Test level as a result of some below-par performances from their star players.
Add to his prowess with the bat, Mendis can also keep wickets and could in the future be seen as a captaincy candidate, after having led Sri Lanka at the Under-19 World Cup in 2014.
However, if Mendis is given a long rope at No. 3 for Sri Lanka he is sure to mesmerise the world with some magnificent innings. The question is, when will that happen? The quicker Sri Lanka figure out their best XI and their batting order, the faster they can begin winning Test matches consistently.