The lost mystery


The last time Sri Lanka won a series against India was in 2008 and Ajantha Mendis was their hero taking 26 wickets in three Tests. 

by Rex Clementine

The often asked question by visiting journalists from India who are covering the ongoing series is what happened to Ajantha Mendis. It has been almost ten years since Mendis stunned the Indians in the bilateral series between the countries in 2008 taking a World Record 26 wickets. He broke Sir Alec Bedser’s record for most wickets in a debut series that had stood for more than 60 years.

Since that series,  which Sri Lanka won 2-1, they have not been able to beat India in a series.

Mind you this was no ordinary batting line-up. It had Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar,  Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman, all pillars of Indian cricket forming an impregnable line-up that had conquered many attacks.

But Mendis was simply outstanding. His finger-flicked leg-breaks and carrom balls left the batsman bamboozled, flummoxed, befuddled and bewildered as Sri Lanka recorded a stunning series win. The spinner going through the defenses of some of the finest batsmen in the world and dislodging the bails or having them trapped leg before wicket after being completely outfoxed was a magnificent sight to watch. Sad that impact lasted only for a short time.

There  was some indication as to what to follow for Mendis. All mystery spinners in Test cricket had been doomed after their immediate impact with the exception of perhaps Sonny Ramadhin of West Indies.

Bernard Bosanquet of England had an early impact but was found out with time and he played only seven Tests.

Australia’s Jack Iverson and Johnny Gleeson similarly had their moments earlier on before fading away. Iverson played only five Tests while Gleeson played 26.

Ramadhin was an exception. He was the first West Indies Test cricketer of Indian origin and was picked by John Goddard to go on that famous tour of England in 1950 after just two First Class games.

The Englishmen were clueless as he spun the ball both ways – right-arm off-breaks and leg-breaks without any indication of changing the action. Ramadhin took 11 wickets at Lord’s to doom England along with his ‘spin twin’ Alf Valentine and the West Indies recorded their maiden Test win in England.

Their fans celebrated with the famous Calypso song that became very popular.

‘Cricket lovely Cricket,

At Lord’s where I saw it;

Cricket lovely Cricket,

At Lord’s where I saw it;

Yardley tried his best

But Goddard won the test.

They gave the crowd plenty fun;

Second Test and West Indies won.

With those two little pals of mine

Ramadhin and Valentine.’

No song was dedicated to Mendis when he bamboozled the Indians with a collection of top-spins, off-breaks, carrom balls and googlies. His effort won him a double promotion at the Army as then Commander Sarath Fonseka made him Second Lieutenant from Gunner.

Mendis certainly outperformed Muttiah Muralitharan in that series and everyone was excited that they had found the replacement for the legendary spinner.

But in the age of extensive television technology, every bit of Mendis was analyzed. The teams came better prepared and despite his several variations he was found out. Mendis has only played 19 Tests and in the last two years has not played any form of international cricket.

One problem that Mendis had was that he wasn’t a big turner of the ball. So once the teams picked his variations, he was exposed. Mendis didn’t help his cause either due to lack of fitness and poor fielding. He could have still had an impact in the shorter formats of the game, particularly in T-20s, but his fielding became a liability.

Given Sri Lanka’s struggles in the current series against India – the tourists have posted 600 plus totals in the first innings of the first two Tests – the Mendis topic has resurfaced.

Could he have been better handled, could he have succeeded by playing a competitive First Class tournament, could he have worked on how to obtain more turn are questions that will remain unanswered.

Since Mendis so many bowlers have come and gone, but no one was able to cause the damage he did. Since Mendis’ dream series, Sri Lanka and India have played ten Test matches with India winning seven and Sri Lanka two. There have been four series between these teams since then and three have been won by India while the other has been drawn. Mendis will be remembered as the last man to help Sri Lanka to a series win over India.


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