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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ajantha Mendis — The Freak Turns It On

By Venkat Ananth

Sri Lanka's penchant for producing cricketing freaks is not new. Even before they attained Test status, they had cricketers who could do different things differently on a cricket pitch.

Take the case of Ivers Gunasekara – Ceylon’s captain in the 1950s, the man who has been hailed as the original Master Blaster. His cricketing achievements apart, Ivers made a name for himself for being able to whack the cricket ball in the same manner as a Nadal would to that green little thing. He played shots at angles, which around that time was considered taboo than revolutionary.

Then came a Muttiah Muralitharan, whose unique action challenged the guardians of the game and divided the cricketing world. And then, Lasith Malinga – who by throwing the "soft-ball" in practice as hard as he could, turned into an A-grade slinger – flummoxing many a reputed batsman.

Now, at a time when quality in Sri Lankan cricket was in heavy doubt, they churned out a refreshingly freakish talent, who's taken international cricket by storm in his short stint. Ajantha Mendis, who was by and large known as a Sri Lankan Army Private till he wore the Blue (as Lankans call it), has overnight transformed himself into the poster-boy of Sri Lankan cricket.

No sooner did he come into public glare, than the inevitable comparisons to two Aussie former spinners – John "carrom grip" Iverson and John Gleeson already got going. If anything, Mendis has the ability to bowl everything that a spinner technically can – the off-break, the leg-break, the doosra, the flipper, the quicker one and not to forget the wrong'un – with a grip that is rather unique – the ball entrenched above the middle and the ring finger, only to be flicked the way he wants it to go.

What makes him a lethal proposition for a batsman is his ability, in true Kumble fashion, bowl an accurate line and length, with little or absolutely no deviation. Play for the turn, and the umpires if they picked him, might just send the batsman back!

But, for a man who has largely spent his rather short and successful cricketing career in a lesser known environment of a second-division domestic team, international cricket as of now looks like a piece of cake. Sixty-eight wickets in nine first-class matches' reads well in a stats review package, but when you consider the grueling nature of international cricket, that magical tenth over in the final of the Asia Cup left everyone spellbound.

The batsman was in a murderous mood, itching to put the pressure on Mendis straightaway – perhaps an indication of how highly the Indians rated him even without seeing him before. Had Sehwag's intentions come off, Mendis wouldn't have even been a subject of most cricketing discussions today. Mendis' talent was never under question and for everyone who woke up the night to watch Sri Lanka's Caribbean sojourn, it was only a matter of time before he blossomed in international cricket.

But, the need of the situation was temperament and courage. Mendis, had that in abundance and perhaps the hasty see-the-ball-and-tonk-it-to-Quetta strategy used by Sehwag played into his hands. And much more than that, the mere anticipation of the Sehwag gamble, showed that the spinner's maturity was beyond the matches he's played thus far.

In the case of the other batsmen, the set-up by a canny captain in Mahela and a private in Ajantha did the trick. Alas, it took an Ishant Sharma, a team-mate of Mendis in the Kolkata IPL franchise to perhaps pick what was coming out of his fingers (not the wrist).

At the end of it all, what Sri Lanka has manage to unearth in their past two series is a gem of a cricketer, who if guided well by the Muralis and the Sangakkaras will only blossom into something special.

His inclusion in the Test team is only a matter of time, but in his short stint as a Sri Lankan cricketer, he's given them what they needed all along – a quality spinner to support Murali and not just that, a bigger ray of hope and a shot in the arm for lesser known talents in the island-nation.

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Sagi said...

Great stuff man, but the platform is rather…….(pick your word). I mean a story such as this deserved a better place not this shitty blog please. Guys, it has not been updated since ages…

Varun said...

Nice piece, Mr. Anant. For a sorry Man U supporter, you sure can write and express yourself nicely! Nice job. Cheers

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YellowMonkey said...


Hopefully he sticks around unlike Iverson.

Cricket needs good bowlers

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