Mendis’ memorable comeback


A disappointed Kusal Mendis leaves the field after being dismissed four runs short of a maiden double hundred on Friday during the first Test against Bangladesh in Chittagong. Senior partner Roshen Silva is seen giving the young batsman a pat on his back. Pic by Sameera Peiris.

by Rex Clementine

On Friday, Kusal Mendis turned 23 and celebrated the occasion with his fourth Test hundred. Exciting to think how many hundreds he will end up with. Even the great Arjuna Ranatunga after 93 Tests and 18 years in the international circuit managed just four Test hundreds. Unafraid to play his shots and trust his instincts, Mendis is going to give us many thrills in years to come.

His axing from the tour of India was perhaps a harsh call. After all, he had just one poor series in UAE. When similar thoughts emerged to drop him after the tour of South Africa last year, then Head Coach Graham Ford vehemently opposed the idea.

During his time as South Africa’s Head Coach, Ford brought the best out of young players like Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher giving them the freedom to express themselves and his methods were similar with Mendis.

Now, with no Ford to back him, Mendis had to do it all by himself. His 196 in Chittagong was an absolute treat to watch.

Graeme Labrooy perhaps had good reason for axing Mendis for the series against world’s number one ranked team. Had Mendis failed in the first Test in Calcutta, he would have been warming the benches in Nagpur and Delhi. Instead good returns in domestic cricket helped him to force his way back into the side. The thought that he is not in the side on reputation but merit must have done him some good.

His comeback actually was during the tri-nation series in Dhaka and in the final against the hosts on Sunday, Mendis showcased what is in store. Head Coach Chandika Hathurusingha had given him the license to go after the off-spinner and in one over, he hit Mehedi Hasan for three sixes. He was dismissed in the next over as he gave Mashrafe Mortaza the charge. What Hathurusingha had not told him was to go after the fast bowling. At times, he tends to get carried away with things. That’s what youthful exuberance does.

There were some concerns when Sri Lanka opted to move Mendis up the order as an opener instead of his customary number three position in Tests. The start has been good and the selectors will be hoping that their search for a solid partner for the reliable Dimuth Karunaratne is finally over.

These Bangladeshi spinners had created havoc against Australia and England last year. Against Sri Lanka, with over 500 runs on the board, they could afford to attack the batsmen. Mendis counterattacked and together with Dhananjaya de Silva put Sri Lanka into a position of strength. Their 308 run stand is the third highest by a Sri Lankan pair for the third wicket and it features among the top ten stands by a Sri Lankan pair for any wicket.

With sheer quality and exquisite timing with his cuts, flicks and drives, Dhananjaya looks a right-handed version of the elegant David Gower.

The only disappointment is that both batsmen missed out on well deserved double hundreds particularly Mendis, who was dismissed for a career best score of 196. Last year too he missed out on a double hundred when he threw away his wicket when on 194, also against the same opponents.

In Tests, Sri Lanka’s batting looks settled and this is the first time in many years that all top six batsmen are under the age of 30. Moving forward it augurs well for the team as Sri Lanka can build up a formidable batting unit. Last year was a remarkable one for senior batsmen Dinesh Chandimal and Dimuth Karunaratne as they finished with more than 1000 runs in Tests, a feat achieved by four other batsmen including the likes of Virat Kohli and Steve Smith.

Karunaratne, prior to the Test specialists departure to Bangladesh had spoken about the team’s ambitious desires to being ranked among the top four teams in the world and their effort in the first Test is proof that the team is capable of achieving the feat. Currently, Sri Lanka are ranked sixth in rankings and six rating points separate them and fourth placed New Zealand.

Unlike 2017, where they had back to back series against top ranked India and a tour of South Africa, in 2018, Sri Lanka’s challenges aren’t too testing with a tour to West Indies and home series against South Africa and England.

With Roshen Silva too in good nick, there is a healthy competition for slots. It will be a headache for selectors as to whom to leave out once white ball captain Angelo Mathews returns to the side. Another player who needs to be in the set up is Sadeera Samarawickrama. Mendis’ Under-19 team-mate has promised much but has struggled in domestic cricket since being dropped from the Bangladesh tour. He certainly is a player for the future.

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