Kusal achieves what even Sanga failed


Kusal Mendis

Rex Clementine
reporting from Pallekele


Former great Kumar Sangakkara is very keen on winning Test matches against top opponents. He has been the hero in many famous Sri Lankan wins both home and away. But he went through 15 long years of Test cricket without ever winning a Test match against the Aussies. Sanga played 13 Tests against Australia but never won a game against them despite making huge contributions as a batsman.

He came very close on a couple of occasions like when he made that fabulous 192 in Hobart in 2007 when Rudi Koertzen’s dreadful finger cut his innings short. Young Kusal Mendis, the man who replaced him at number three, has tasted success against world’s number one ranked team on his very first attempt. His 176 in the first Test here at Pallekele set up a memorable win for Sri Lanka yesterday. This is Sri Lanka’s first Test win over Australia after 17 painful years.

When Kusal was picked to make his Test debut at the age of 20 last year, many were surprised. He had less than a handful of First Class matches under his belt at that stage. He hadn’t played for the ‘A’ team either. So when he was thrown into the deep end, soon after school cricket, there were people who doubted the move. But Kapila Wijegunawardene’s selection panel was convinced that he was good enough. Kusal has not only proved them right, he has gone onto put the misery away from the national cricket team.

This year no doubt has been a tough one for the national cricket team. Angelo Mathews’ side failed to make an impact at World T-20 and Asia Cup and in England they were simply awful. Kusal finally has given the fans something to cheer about. "He made a 150 when he was in India with the Development Squad. When he came into the national side, to be honest I hadn’t seen him much," Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews told journalists. "But then we went to New Zealand and at that point I thought he was pretty special. The way he batted at that number three position was extraordinary. He had a couple of tough tours first up. New Zealand and then England. When the ball was seaming around he showed lot of character." Mathews added.

Kusal’s knock is all the more special given the fact that the next best score in the entire Test match was Steven Smith’s 54. No other batsman was able to score a half-century in the game. His knock reminded us of Mahela Jayawardene’s 167 against New Zealand in Galle in 1997 on a rank turner. On that instance the next best knock was Nathan Astle’s 53 as Sri Lanka won by an innings. Given the way he played in England, people were pretty happy with his technique, but at Pallekele this week he proved that he had good temperament too. Maybe it’s temperament that another technically sound player - Lahiru Thirimanne - the man expected to take the baton from Sangakkara lacks.

Mendis was very organized and he backed his instincts. There was a bit of Aravinda de Silva in the way he brought up his century. Aravinda, the greatest batsman the country has produced, came up with magical stuff.

On the day of his 20th birthday, he finished unbeaten on 94 in Faisalabad. The next morning he reached his maiden Test century with a six off the bowling of the great Imran Khan. Similarly, Kusal (21) when he was on 95 slog-swept Nathan Lyon for a six to reach his maiden century. The Australians were stunned by his disdainful attitude. But were quick to congratulate. All of them shook hands with the youngster and there was much praise as his knock made the difference between the two sides.

Kusal walked in in the first over of day four after Dimuth Karunaratne was dismissed for a duck and Sri Lanka were two wickets down with just six runs on the board. Having seen off the threat from the new ball, he took on the spinners using the sweep shot to good effect. His effort helped Sri Lanka to get a lead beyond 200 and that proved to be a match winning one. Steven Smith tested him with two short mid-wickets as he saw the batsman flicking the seamers regularly. But Kusal had the temperament to change gear and started playing with a straight bat. In what has been a painful year for our cricket, Kusal has given us much to celebrate. Cricket had a Prince of Calcutta and a Prince of Trinidad. Now the game has a Prince of Moratuwa.

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