Sri Lanka bank on Mendis


There’s no better sight in cricket than Kusal Mendis in full flow.

by Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka chased down a historic series win in Port Elizabeth in February, Kusal Mendis batted like Roy Dias. Those straight drives off Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada with stunning wrist work made people to marvel his batting. In the absence of the team’s two senior most batters – Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal – Mendis took it upon himself to finish the job. His unbeaten 84 won him the Man of the Match award as Sri Lanka became the first Asian nation to win a series in South Africa. Can he deliver during the World Cup as well?

Ever since Sri Lanka won the World Cup in 1996, they have entered the next five editions of the competition with their fans believing that there’s a chance to win the World Cup. But this time around, there is little optimism among local fans. It is Mendis who will have to rekindle hope among cricket’s devout. 

Mendis is a major investment that Sri Lanka have made in recent years, but his maturity is taking time. You find him getting himself out rather than the bowler getting him out. Number three position that he occupies is the most critical position in the line-up. He might either walk in at 160 for one or 12 for one. If it is the latter, he will be expected to lay the foundation but if it is the former, he will be expected launch some big shots and help the team to get to a competitive total.

Mendis will start to excel with his role better explained. Currently, even if he had hit three boundaries in an over and there were an opening for a fourth boundary, he would take the risk and go for it without curbing his natural instincts. That is where his predecessor Kumar Sangakkara excelled, playing to the requirements of the team. Mendis at present lacks this, but if his exploits in South Africa were to go by, it is just a matter of time until he makes that shift.

Why Mendis looks invincible one day and horrible the next day is because of his nature to not to curb himself and go with the flow. That is why it is important to help him navigate his innings with the non-striker passing on tips or dressing room sending messages during water breaks as to what is required of him.

People would think that Angelo Mathews or Kusal Janith Perera would play the lead role in Sri Lanka’s batting in the World Cup. Both those players are more experienced than Mendis but in England, if the conditions were overcast and chilly, with seamers a constant threat, KJP could be liability. No such issues with Mathews though.

The former captain has been Sri Lanka’s best batsman in the last two years averaging 60 in ODIs. However, his fitness remains a major concern. Mathews missed 50 percent of Sri Lanka’s ODIs in the last 24 months due to injuries. If he remains injury free, Mathews will be the key for Sri Lanka having won the team many a tight contest.

England is one place that Sri Lanka have a horrendous record in World Cups. Across the four World Cups in that country, Sri Lanka have won just four games after 17 attempts, which is a winning rate of less than 25%. People may say that two of those World Cups were before the country had gained Test status. But even when they went for the 1999 event as defending champions, they were able to win just two games and that too against lowly Kenya and Zimbabwe.

There other two wins in World Cups in England came in 1983 against New Zealand and in 1979 against India, the win that expedited Sri Lanka gaining Test status.

So in English conditions with the ball moving around, the Sri Lankans have had major issues. That was one reason why the team arrived in England three weeks prior to the start of the competition. Hopefully arriving early in England will help them to acclimatize to the conditions.

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