Duleep Mendis spent his twenties in the periphery of international cricket, with Sri Lanka waiting on the brink of Test status, he nevertheless managed to play 24 Tests, mostly as a pillar of strength within a tottering structure  © Getty Images
Duleep Mendis spent his twenties in the periphery of international cricket, with Sri Lanka waiting on the brink of Test status, he nevertheless managed to play 24 Tests, mostly as a pillar of strength within a tottering structure © Getty Images

In the first Test Sri Lanka played against India, Duleep Mendis, born August 25, 1952, had identical scores of 105 in each innings. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the career of the wristy Sri Lankan.

When the raw cricket team from the small island nation visited India for the first time in 1982, many thought it would be cakewalk for the home side. And when Kapil Dev and Madan Lal removed the openers for 11, it seemed to be following the anticipated script.

However, Roy Dias, a stylish, elegant stroke-maker, hit a superb 60. And at the other end was a stocky, wristy batsman, playing with remarkable ease.

Duleep Mendis, who turns 60 today, seemed to resemble another stocky batsman who was playing for India in that Test. As he blazed away to 105 in just 123 balls, many sitting in Madras noticed similarities with the style and stroke-play of Gundappa Viswanath.

He was not done yet. Riding on centuries by Sunil Gavaskar and Sandeep Patil, India took a 220 run lead, and had the Lankans on the back foot at 47 for 3. Again, it was the same pair that thwarted them. Dias stroked his way to a rollicking 108-ball 97, and Mendis batted smoothly to take the innings to 291 before he was the sixth out, bowled by Rakesh Shukla, for another 105.

Although they reshuffled the order and tried to go for it, the Indians did not have sufficient time to chase down the target. The match ended in a draw and Mendis became the first player to have scored identical 100-plus scores in both innings of a Test.

Mendis liked to make it big twice in a match whenever he felt runs in his bones. Two years down the line, against England at Lord’s, he hit 111 in the first innings and 94 in the second, unleashing a dazzling display of pull shots.

And in 1985, at Kandy, he once again proved a thorn in the flesh for India, standing resolutely in their way with 53 and 124 as the visitors struggled in vain to square the series. It was a double triumph for him, as he led his country to their first Test series victory.

Having spent his twenties in the periphery of international cricket, with Sri Lanka waiting on the brink of Test status, he nevertheless managed to play 24 Tests, mostly as a pillar of strength within a tottering structure. He called it a day gracefully with a 56 at Lord’s in 1988.

In 1975, playing in the inaugural World Cup, he had been hospitalised after being struck on the head by a Jeff Thomson bouncer. Joining him there was Sunil Wettimuny, who had his foot broken by two yorkers striking at the same painful place — as the Lankans had made a brave attempt to overhaul the Australian total of 328.

“They were only little fellas, so you couldn’t call it a bouncer exactly!” explained Thomson. However, Mendis saw it differently. “It was the fastest spell of fast bowling I had ever faced in my life. He was averaging over 100 miles. It was seriously fast and we had no protection.”

Mendis returned two decades later to have the last laugh — managing the Sri Lankan side as they beat Australia in the final to win the sixth edition of the World Cup.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)