“He has what it takes to succeed anywhere in the world and we can maybe put his recent rough patch down to fact that he is going through a tough phase. Mendis will without a doubt remain an integral part of the Sri Lankan squad for years to come”
A handy top-order batsman, Sri Lanka’s Kusal Mendis failed to open his account in his side’s miserable performance in the Asia Cup 2018. In the series opener against Bangladesh, Mendis was out first ball, leg before, off Mustafizur Rahman. In the second, a must-win match, against Afghanistan Mendis was once again trapped leg before, this time off teenage finger spinner, Mujeeb ur Rahman. He played across the line on both occasions and missed the ball completely, which gave Sri Lanka a bad start in both the matches. Losing an opener so early can demoralise any team and if someone of the talent of Mendis gets out for successive ducks, it clearly shows all is not well with him at the moment.
Mendis is now a prominent figure in all three formats, having made his international debut in a Test against West Indies in 2015. His talent was never in question, many believed he had the temperament to score big and he delivered in his 7th Test – against the top-ranked Australian side. His mammoth score of 176 in the third innings was the talk of the town. His knock helped Sri Lanka overturn an 86-run first innings deficit and set Australia a target of 268 runs. Sri Lanka won and one knew Mendis was here to stay. He went on to score four more Test centuries after that and is now a mainstay in the Test arena.
However, when it comes to the ODIs, despite making a bright start, he is now struggling for form in the format. He scored five fifties from his first 10 innings and then after a minor blip he once again got back to his best. When you occupy one of the top 4 spots in ODIs, the team expects at least one of them to fire and get a big score and also bat till the end, if possible. However, Mendis in his 49 ODI innings has scored just one century and 11 fifties.
But if you throw some light on some of his more recent performances, he has gone 2 innings without scoring a fifty and out of these 21 innings he has 11 single digit scores out of which in 6 matches, he has not even opened his account. These are some telling numbers for a guy who has been entrusted to bat in the top-order.
In a format like Asia Cup, room for error is a bare minimum. The fact that he was picked in the Asia Cup squad, despite not having done anything of significance in the last 20 innings showed that the team management has a lot of faith in him. But when one does not deliver despite giving him ample chances, it is perhaps time to look beyond him. Niroshan Dickwella could be that option.
To be fair to Mendis, this was the first time he was opening the innings for Sri Lanka. He has scored the majority of his runs at No. 3 (1,079 runs in 38 innings) and No. 4 (236 runs in 6 innings). He perhaps would be better suited returning to that position, with Kusal Perera opening the innings with Upul Tharanga. It might make a difference to Mendis, psychologically.
Mendis had begun to show form in the domestic T20 tournament in Sri Lanka with scores of 40, 36, 58 and 43 leading into the Asia Cup. Sadly for him, his tournament lasted just three balls and did not find a single run in them. He is still just 23 years of age and has a long career ahead of him. He certainly would not want to be the one to fade away after a great start to his international career. He can return to the domestic circuit – especially in the 50-over format – and return to the national side a better player. He seems to fit in fine in Sri Lanka’s Test side and also the T20I side, but is somewhat wanting in the ODIs.
He has played some impressive ODI innings in the past and will do so in the future as well. He perhaps needs just one innings to get his form and rhythm back and we might see him flourishing after that. Having made his international debut at a tender age of 20, Mendis has certainly come a long way in his three years of international cricket. One would hope that it is just the beginning of something big. His recent form for Sri Lanka in the ODIs could be a cause for concern, but if he is dropped, he will come back only stronger.
The youngster has already played in some of the toughest places like England, New Zealand and South Africa. He did well in those countries with his compact technique, extravagant drives and confident pulls. He has what it takes to succeed anywhere in the world and we can maybe put his recent rough patch down to fact that he is going through a tough phase. Mendis will without a doubt remain an integral part of the Sri Lankan squad for years to come.