Home > Features > Moments in history >

Ajantha Mendis — Sri Lanka’s mystery spinner still unsolved in limited-overs formats

Ajantha Mendis still remains a mystery for many, especially in the limited-over formats © Getty Images
Ajantha Mendis still remains a mystery for many, especially in the limited-over formats © Getty Images

Ajantha Mendis, born on March 11, 1985, burst onto the scene as a mystery spinner and had the batsmen in huge trouble. Six years on, Mendis may not be a mystery anymore, but remains a force in one-day cricket. Nishad Pai Vaidya writes about Mendis’s career so far.

When the Indians toured Sri Lanka in 2008, a mystery spinner had all their veterans in trouble. A few weeks before that encounter, he embarrassed the younger Indian lot with remarkable figures of six for 13 in the Asia Cup final in Karachi. But, here were the veterans — Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman — men who were expected to show their true class against a tyro; working him out. However, they were bamboozled, beaten and scarred as Ajantha Mendis romped home with 26 wickets in the three-match Test series. A star was born they said!

But, six years on, Mendis hasn’t quite been able to replicate the same devastation. With all the modern equipment and the planning in dressing rooms, teams have got a hang of his bag of tricks and in the longer version, they have time on their side to play him. However, in one-day cricket, he is still a major force as the paucity of time works in his favour. With batsmen trying to press the issue, they may make that mistake of reading the odd delivery. Thus, at the time of writing, his one-day record his far more impressive when compared to his Test figures. In 18 Tests, he has 70 wickets, 26 of which came in his first three Tests.

Born in Moratuwa on March 11, 1985, Mendis’s talent was recognized in school and he did make a mark with his unique brand of cricket. That uncanny element was there even then and in 2001, the Sri Lankan Army noticed him and asked him to enlist for his cricket. The official website of the Sri Lankan defence ministry notes that Mendis had lost his father the previous week. It was a good opportunity as Mendis had to support his family after his father’s departure.

After grinding it out in the smaller levels, Mendis finally made to First-Class cricket, in 2006. In his second First-Class game, he took a five-wicket haul and the mystery just continued there. In 10 First-Class matches in his debut season, he took 43 wickets at an average of 20.93. However, it was during the second season that he really made a mark. In nine matches, he took 68 wickets at an astonishing average of 10.51, with six fifers. But, his exploits in List A cricket made it more startling. In 14 games, he took 32 wickets at an average of 9.37. With that performance, Sri Lanka could not ignore him any longer. He was on the flight to the Caribbean in April 2008 for his maiden international experience!

In his first ODI itself, Mendis showed that he could be quite a handful. The batsmen did not find him easy to read and he finished with figures of three for 39. However, that game is more famous for Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s heroics of smashing 10 runs off the last two balls to win a game for the West Indies. It was during the Asia Cup that he truly dazzled as his 17 wickets took Sri Lanka to the title. The six-for in the final embarrassed some of the best young players in the world as his craft was uncanny.

Then, it was obvious that he would make it into the Test squad and he wrecked havoc. Barring Virender Sehwag, none of the other Indian batsmen could figure out his mystery. While India did hit back in the second Test thanks to Sehwag’s double, but Sri Lanka prevailed as the Muttiah Muralitharan-Mendis combination spun a web around them.

Ajantha Mendis was one of the star performers for Sri Lanka during the ICC World T20 2012 © Getty Images
Ajantha Mendis was one of the star performers for Sri Lanka during the ICC World T20 2012 © Getty Images

Mendis’s cricketing stocks only rose from that point. He got his 50th ODI wicket in his 19th game, breaking Ajit Agarkar’s record for the fastest to the milestone. In Test cricket too, he did continue to do well, but by the time the Indians returned for an ODI series in early 2009, they had a fair idea of how to tackle him. Perhaps, that changed things, but when it came to T20 cricket, he a still a force. During Sri Lanka’s run to the final at the ICC World T20 2009 in England, Mendis played a crucial role. His figures of three for nine (against New Zealand) and two for nine (against West Indies in the semi-final) showed his true worth.

By then, teams had worked him out and batsmen no longer found themselves in trouble. For his next 50 ODI wickets, he took 44 matches. But, having said that, he maintained tight control and played crucial roles in a few tournaments for Sri Lanka. At the ICC World Cup 2011, he kept a tight hold over batsmen in the middle overs and formed a potent combination with Muralitharan and Rangana Herath. He only picked seven wickets, but had bowled exceptionally well. It was quite bizarre when he wasn’t picked for the final that year. Later that year, he also took six for 12 against Australia in a T20 International.

Then, in the ICC World T20 2012 at home, he took 15 wickets, which included a remarkable six for eight against Zimbabwe. In the final against West Indies, he took four for 12, a spell during which he kept Chris Gayle quiet before snaring him. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka choked in the run-chase and Mendis’s efforts were in vain.

Meanwhile, he was out of the side for nearly two years after the Cardiff Test against England in 2011. Since then, he has played two more Tests, both against Bangladesh. During his most recent Test match appearance, he recorded a six wicket haul, but with Herath holding his place after Muralitharan’s retirement, it looks tough for Mendis to break through until the left-arm spinner calls it a day.

The mystery may not be there, but the carom ball can still stun batsmen. It is important for Mendis to maintain his art and work on it so that he remains a force. He may not have replicated his early success, but there is still a long road ahead for Mendis. With only 18 Tests and 70 ODIs behind him, there is a lot more to look forward to from the Sri Lankan tweaker.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)

Pakistan vs Australia in UAE, 2014

Oct 30, 2014 (11:30 IST)   at Abu Dhabi

Sri Lanka tour of India, 2014

Nov 2, 2014 (13:30 IST)   at Cuttack

Zimbabwe tour of Bangladesh, 2014

Nov 3, 2014 (09:00 IST)   at Khulna

South Africa tour of Australia, 2014

Nov 5, 2014 (14:05 IST)   at Adelaide

Sri Lanka tour of India, 2014

Nov 6, 2014 (13:30 IST)   at Ahmedabad

More

West Indies tour of India, 2014

Nov 15, 2014  at Ahmedabad

Match cancelled

West Indies tour of India, 2014

Nov 7, 2014  at Bengaluru

Match cancelled

West Indies tour of India, 2014

Oct 30, 2014  at Hyderabad

Match cancelled

South Africa tour of New Zealand, 2014

Oct 27, 2014  at Hamilton

No result

Zimbabwe tour of Bangladesh, 2014

Oct 25, 2014  at Dhaka

Bangladesh won by 3 wkts

Photos

Pakistan vs Australia, 2nd Test

Videos

Tendulkar provides teaser on upcoming book

Live Cricket Score Duleep Trophy Central Zone vs South Zone, final at Delhi Day 4: KL Rahul brings up sixth FC century with six; South Zone 148/1

Live Cricket Score Pakistan vs Australia, 2nd Test, Day 3 at Abu Dhabi: Pakistan hold advantage with 370-run lead

Don Bradman dismissed twice on the same day

Rohit Sharma looks to strengthen career after an inconsistent year

Yuvraj Singh — have we seen the last of the man who won India three World Cups?

Australia Australia tour of UAE 2014 Australia vs Pakistan Australia vs Pakistan 2014 Central Zone Duleep Trophy Duleep Trophy 2014-15 India Pakistan Pakistan vs Australia Pakistan vs Australia 2014 South Zone South Zone vs Central Zone Sri Lanka Sri Lanka tour of India 2014

Pakistan vs New Zealand 2014: New Zealand ready for spin challenge, says Shane Bond

KL Rahul becomes 10th batsmen to score century in each innings in Duleep Trophy

Pakistan hold advantage with 370-run lead at stumps on Day 3 of 2nd Test against Australia

India vs Sri Lanka 2014: Virat Kohli looks forward to captaincy stint

India vs Sri Lanka 2014: Chance for both teams to get the No.1 ODI spot

Michael Clarke defies cricket rules; should he be penalised?

Don Bradman dismissed twice on the same day

Virat Kohli’s captaincy opportunities important in context of India’s succession plans

Rohit Sharma looks to strengthen career after an inconsistent year

Younis Khan equals Javed Miandad’s record of most 150+ scores by Pakistan batsman

Fan of the Day

Niharika Shah

Niharika Shah

678 Posts | 6 Fans

Video Highlights: Younis Khan century during Pakistan vs Australia 1st Test at Dubai

Google extends “Ok, Google” hotword to third-party apps with six lines of code

Ayurvedic treatment: 7 types of Ayurvedic massages you should know about

Raajneeti 2 First Look: Will Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif come back for the sequel?

Varun Dhawan shares a funny moment with Ranbir Kapoor’s best buddy Ayan Mukerji – View pics!

Beauty Tip #43 — Get fuller-looking lips with home-made sugar scrub

Gmail for Android updated with Material Design UI and support for other email services

Interstellar trailer review: Mankind must survive off Earth

Liverpool vs Newcastle United Live Streaming and Score: Watch Live Telecast Online Barclays Premier League 2014-15 Match

Also on cricketcountry.com

Play Fantasy Cricket & Win

Cash Daily! Click here