Kusal Mendis is one of the positives for Sri Lanka in 2018…….
It was Aravinda de Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga, who were famous for their rescue acts whenever Sri Lanka fell into trouble. They passed the baton to a certain Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, who carried Sri Lankan cricket on their shoulders for more than a decade. It was up to Angelo Mathews to show the way and for a certain period he was doing his job pretty well, but his fitness hampered his performance and, thus, the job of life-saving-act had to be carried by the bunch of young boys.
The likes of Dinesh Chandimal, Dimuth Karunaratne, Roshen Silva, Kusal Perera or Kaushal Silva are talented, but somehow, they are proving to be inconsistent. A 23-year old youngster named Kusal Mendis, so far, proved his worth consistently this year and giving the impression to the Lankan fans; he is different from others and possesses the temperament like a Mahela, Sangakkara or Aravinda to fight it out when the going gets tough.
The 23-year old is special. Those who have just come to know about Mendis after his back to back fighting knocks against all the odds at Wellington and Christchurch, might feel, he is more about compactness rather than possessing the ability to script a counterattack like an Aravinda or a Sangakkara. The boy can take the attack to the cleaners like a maestro and who knows better than Steve Smith and his men, who witnessed one of the most dashing knocks of this decade at Pallekele.
Mendis notched up a swashbuckling 176 against a competent Australian attack, which set the tone for a marvellous series where the Islanders gunned down Smith & Co quite brutally. He followed it up with an 86-run knock at Galle, but since then, Mendis lost his mojo and started to frustrate the Sri Lankan followers, for whom – digesting a Lankan defeat has become a regularity over the past two years.
Chandika Hathurusingha took over the responsibility to rebuild Sri Lankan cricket. The start of 2018 was pretty optimistic for the master, but since that adventurous tour of West Indies, nothing has gone right for Sri Lanka. As usual, they are losing. As usual, things are pretty chaotic on and off the pitch. Chandika’s tactics have come under scrutiny and, it seems, the officials too are losing faith in him gradually.
But one thing for sure, it is too early to write off Chandika. It is always tough to bring back a team on track who have suffered a lot in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Yes, the progress is slow, but some bright outcomes cannot be ignored. Among few of those outcomes, the return of Mendis to back to form can be credited to Chandika and batting coach Thilan Samaraweera’s hard work.
Mendis of 2018 – enough consistent, enough wiser
After his heroic knock alongside Angelo at Wellington, Chandimal said, “After the match yesterday everyone was having a bit of fun telling Mendis that he was batting like Thilan Samaraweera. He works really closely with Thilan on his batting, and we were just making fun of the way he’d played”.
“We should especially mention that at tea yesterday, he had 98 runs, and at the end of the day, after batting 31 overs and playing out a whole session, he had only made it to 116. You look at that and you really see he played for the team. It’s a really valuable century, and it’s one that he had to go away from his natural style to produce” Chadimal added.
The impact is evident.
The Mendis of 2018 is different from that of 2016 and 2017, where he did not know the importance of composure and displaying resolve according to the demand of situation. Since that marvellous knock against Australia at Pallekele and Galle, perhaps, Mendis thought, it is always ideal to rely on counterattacks no matter in what situation he comes out to bat. But in five-day matches, you cannot switch to a fourth or fifth gear immediately as because, it is not a Twnety20 match. In Test cricket, understanding the basics of batting is a must. And that’s why, he struggled and even, he was dropped from the side for such a style, which resulted in his lean-patch.
But this year, he worked on his weakness along with Thilan and the result has been satisfactory.
In the morning session of Day 4, Mendis weathered the storm from Trent Boult and Tim Southee, but Neil Wagner did not know about anything else other than targeting the ribs and throat. Wagner unleashed a barrage of short-pitch bowling, which came towards chest and neck like cannonballs – Mendis’ newly-found confidence and polished technique helped him to survive the heat of Wagner. He spent hours after hours along with Chandimal to ensure safety. And for which, Sri Lanka could at least survive the day and take the game to Day 5.
“It was to bat as many balls as possible, as had been the case in Wellington. I tried to make the ball older and softer. If runs came, then that’s a bonus. So we took it hour by hour and tried to break the work up that way. I was able to bat a session and a half, but if I’d been able to support Chandi a little bit better, we might have been able to finish today without a wicket having fallen”, Mendis expressed his opinion in the post-match presser.
After all the hard work in the middle, he was dismissed quite tamely – Spotting a wide length ball from Neil Wagner, he drove it uppishly to short cover, where Matt Henry took a spectacular diving catch.
The shot was a wrong one and the good thing is Mendis, at present, can judge his mistakes better than before. As he said, “I don’t think that was a great ball to drive. After looking at the replays, that’s probably what I take from it. I was trying to hit through extra cover. The fielder was close, and I hit it too far in the air. It was probably too wide. It’s one that I really could have left alone, but I made the wrong decision. Hopefully, I can learn from it”.
The words say it all. The Mendis of 2018 is much wiser than before. He has understood the pros and cons of playing Test cricket. Mendis has started to realise his true abilities, which is similar to what the past masters used to do more – be the life saver, when the team is in deep trouble.
Talent is nothing if does not turn into deeds. It seems, gradually, Mendis is learning this. Otherwise, he would not have ended up as one of the best batsmen of 2018, who has scored 1000-plus runs alongside the great Virat Kohli.
Mendis said, “I am going to try and get 1000 every year” which is the statement of a man, who is confident and hungry for more. He is one of the positives for Sri Lanka this year and Sri Lanka need to exploit the positives they have.