Ajantha Mendis: Sri Lanka’s new spin king

Sports Editor Henry Cowen talks mystery spin with the carrom-bowling enigma that is Ajantha Mendis

Photo: Dhammika Heenpella/Images of Sri Lanka

Photo: Dhammika Heenpella/Images of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s tour of England comes at an interesting time for the tourists; no Lasith Malinga, no Chaminda Vaas and, crucially, no Muttiah Muralitharan. Their batting has already impressed, 400 on a grey day in May, but – at the time of writing – their bowling is coming up short.

One man who might have to step up and impress now that Murali is gone is the mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis. Mendis, spoke to Nouse ahead of the series, to give his thoughts on what awaited his side. The off-spinner, embarking on his first test tour of England, described it as “an exciting place to play cricket”.

Perhaps it seemed less exciting as messrs Cook and Trott ground out another one of their welcome if not aesthetically pleasing partnerships in England’s first innings of the series and with no Murali to wile away at the opposite end Sri Lanka may have to get used to life in the field, especially if Mendis’ view on replacing the great man is true: “Nobody can fill the void left by Muralitharan. Murali is Murali and there can never be another bowler of his class.”

Nobody can fill the void left by Muralitharan. Murali is Murali and there can never be another bowler of his class

Some would argue that Mendis is being harsh on himself, and his fellow bowlers, with this assessment. Muralitharan was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime talent, and losing a true great is never easy (just ask Australia post-Warne), but in time one would imagine that the side will rally. If this is to be the case then someone will need to fill in Muralitharan’s rather sizeable shoes and Mendis could just be that man.

With 62 test wickets at an average of 32, after 15 matches. the mystery spinner has enjoyed a solid if unspectacular start to the five-day game. In many ways Strauss’ England – set on becoming the world’s number one side – are Mendis’ biggest test yet. Indeed, in his words, he couldn’t pinpoint one individual he was looking to target: “There isn’t anybody in particular, they are all good players.”

Good players they may be but so is Mendis. His entry into the Sri Lankan side in 2008 was met with considerable excitement; a ‘spinner’ with the ability to take some of Murali’s column inches. So what of Mendis’ carrom ball? A delivery flicked out of the thumb and a bent middle finger and pioneered by Australia’s Jack Iverson many moons ago, the Sri Lankan is nonchalant about his mastering of the skill: “That is an art I perfected from my school days, first with a tennis ball and then with a cricket ball.”

I want to think that Sri Lanka are a good enough side to beat any team in the world

With Mendis’ many variations making him almost impossible to classify (Sky have plumped for ‘Right Arm Slow Bowler’) his armoury might just come in useful as Tillakaratne Dilshan’s side aim to win a series in England for the second time.

Mendis played down his role, stating: “Well each one of us has a role to play. I don’t think there is a single player that can be considered more important than anyone else in the bowling department. All of us have to do our bit when the opportunity comes and with that we can end up on a positive note”.

He continues: “I want to think that Sri Lanka can beat England as we have the players to do it, but it is how we play on the day. However, we are determined to do well; no questions about it”.

Mendis will need first to conquer England’s stubborn resistance and the weather before he can think about holding aloft the series trophy and indeed replacing Muralitharan in the long-term. Sri Lanka definitely have a long way to go, but Ajantha Mendis might just be the man to get them there.

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