Things are not going well for Kusal Mendis…..
A promising career seems to have lost some spark in a matter of just a year or so. Kusal Mendis, Sri Lanka’s young gun has been given ample chances in all three formats. Amidst the crisis that is engulfed Sri Lankan cricket over the last year, investing in Mendis seems to have been a step in the right direction. Sri Lanka have conceded the series at home against England. But they still have the pride to play for in the third Test at Colombo. With nothing to lose, Sri Lanka will look to go all guns blazing to ensure they come away with something to show for their efforts in the series. For that to happen, Mendis will have to play a key role with the bat, given that he bats in the top 4.
Among the top 4 batsmen, we have seen Dimuth Karunaratne play some majestic innings, which has given Sri Lanka some big scores in the recent past. In the series against South Africa, when all the batsmen were struggling against the spin of Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi, Karunaratne held one end up. He led the way for the rest of his teammates, scoring 158 not out, 60, 53 and 85 in his four innings. Sri Lanka seemed to have the runs on the board on all occasions courtesy of Karunaratne, who grinded it out in the middle.
However, this could have been an opportunity for Mendis to further consolidate his position. He got to starts in three of those innings but failed to 24 in those four innings. You need someone in the top 4 to step up and deliver. Karunaratne did it for Sri Lanka, but given Mendis’ talent, he too could have made it count and put ordinary form behind him.
Also read: Angelo Mathews can’t save Sri Lanka alone
His ODI form took a beating. He did not get off the mark in the UAE in the Asia Cup in both the innings in the ODI series against Sri Lanka, he managed just 61 runs in 3 innings, including the highest score of 56. He scored just one run in the T20I that followed. He is an attacking batsman when it comes to limited-overs, sometimes over-attacking when it comes to the shortest format. He is still just 23 years of age and one would recommend that he play as much cricket as possible, regardless of the format. Playing all three formats is not an easy task. You constantly have to change your mindset, shot selection, etc.. and it is not easy for everyone.
Keeping the World Cup in mind, Mendis will certainly be in contention for a spot. At No. 4, he gives the team a bit of comfort, knowing that someone of his stature will come into play in that position – someone who can attack and at the same time knock the ball around, keep the scoreboard ticking. However, a poor run of form in limited-overs is perhaps slowly spilling on to his Test form as well.
When you do not have many runs under your belt, it could start playing on your mind. It did not take special deliveries to get him out in either of the Tests against England so far. In fact in the second innings at Galle, when Sri Lanka were looking to play out time, Mendis looked to clear a deepish mid-off, stationed there after he was placed moments before. This was after Mendis had scored 45. England too took risks, but the used the sweep shot to good effect and did not play risk going over the top especially with the possibility of the ball gripping and turning.
It is not that Mendis cannot play long innings. His 196 against Bangladesh earlier this year and the 176 at Pallekele against Australia last year are a testimony to that. But he needs to spend more time at the crease and once set, he should not throw it away. With more T20s being played, more inventive shots are being played and that has in the recent past spread on to the Tests as well. A classical batsman with a compact technique, Mendis has all the shots in the book. It is important to keep improving on your skill sets, but that does not mean that you play shots which are outside the comfort zone.
Menids has clearly got the support of his teammates and the management, which is why he has been given a long rope in all the formats. However, the selectors can consider zero in on the format in which they need Mendis the most and encourage him to focus on that a bit more. His spot in the Test side looks to be the most secure at the moment and perhaps it will help the team if they motivate him to do better in that format. He is yet to play any T20 league around the world.
Any youngster might be tempted in doing so, but for now, Mendis’ focus should be on improving his skills as a batsman and for that, he must play a lot of First-Class matches. Even a stint in County cricket in England too might help his cause. The next two to three years will be crucial for Mendis. He has not reached his full potential yet but is slowly on his way. Consistency and the hunger to score big every time he steps foot at the crease will be key.