Posts Tagged ‘Ajantha Mendis’

Goutham Chakravarthi

If you have been to Sri Lanka you’ll know that there are few nicer people than them. And if you happened to know people from the Caribbean you also realize that few are as full of life as them. In more ways, this is also a battle between two nations, one, which has produced the most natural of bowlers over the past decade and another that has produced the most natural T20 players in the format’s brief history.

Contrastingly, pundits and fans of the West Indies think their captain, Darren Sammy is a liability and is taking up Russell or Dwayne Smith out of the team while some think he has managed to keep the team together and ride through tough waters. On the other hand, the brilliant Mahela Jayawardene has maneuvered his team and made inspirational player picks and brilliant on field decisions. That he is yet to commit to a long tenure as captain long tells of issues beyond his control. Cricket outside of the field has been eventful for both finalists over the last few years.

Gayle has been the inspiration behind Windies’ resurgence. © Reuters

While West Indies have made as much news for their Gangnam dances on the field as they have for partying in their hotel rooms, their form coming in to the finals will be worrisome for the Sri Lankan management. Not much seems impossible for their batting when they click as a unit.

It is apparent to the eye from outside that Gayle is the leader of these men and his contributions in playing the anchor and the grenade launcher and switching back and forth with the same ease he breaks in to his various celebratory dance moves. It was apparent when Samuels bowled the Super Over against New Zealand ahead of Narine that he had the final say in the on field meeting with Darren Sammy.

It would be daft to think that getting Gayle out early would seal the victory for the Lions. Gayle perhaps has been the reason and belief in Johnson Charles, Samuels, Bravo and Pollard having contributed immensely in tough situations. They, along with Sri Lanka, seem to have the team covered for all situations and conditions – including having the best answers for Super Over situations.

The wickets have slowed down and will aid spinners and clever medium pacers that favour the cunning. Expect Mahela to throw surprises at the West Indies with team selection and bowling changes. His horses-for-courses team selection has proved to be inspiring: be it either picking Herath in the semifinals over Dhanajaya or opening the bowling with Angelo Mathews. It is hard not to think Mahela bowling Dilshan and Kualasekara with the new ball to Gayle on Sunday evening.

It has been a tournament where most things have gone well for Mahela barring the loss to South Africa at Hambantota. His batting will still hold the key for his team either batting first or chasing. His batting under pressure and on difficult tracks are a thing of beauty. Twice in a span of 18 months he has played champion knocks when it mattered most for his team (ICC World Cup 2011 finals and in the semi-finals the other day against Pakistan).

Mahela has been spectacular as a tactician, leader and batsman. © AFP

Also, Mahela has the knack to smell tactics and seems to be able to move away from a pre-decided plan on his instinct. It is this aspect of his cricket from which Sri Lanka seems to have benefited with him back at the helm after Dilshan stepped down.

It is, of course, silly to pin the credit of his team’s entire success on Mahela alone for his troops stand by him and in Sangakkara, he has an able ally in implementing his various plans. But it must also not be forgotten that he seems to be the type to go out of his way to pick the players he wants: Dananjaya being a point in case. Nor did he seem hesitant to pick Herath over Danajaya given Herath’s success over Pakistan in Test cricket and the captain’s opinion that Pakistan had difficulties against left-arm spin. His inspired selection proved to be a differentiating factor in the end. Nor does the very promising Dinesh Chandimal feature in the captain’s scheme of things in this world cup.

Often, it is the captain who takes the major chunk of the blame should things go wrong in this part of the world, and often it is a very fine line between being inspirational and being insipid. Mahela duly deserves credits for being innovative and bold. Long may his instincts serve his country as its captain.

As the two best teams this tournament square-off on Sunday, it might boil down to a battle of wits at the end. And Jayawardene should fancy his chances of getting his hands around ICC silverware at long last!

This is a published article in Island Cricket


Goutham Chakravarthi

Mahela Jayawardene was right when he brushed aside talks of choking at the final stages of the big tournaments. After all, as one of the strongest contenders, looking too far ahead is the last distraction his team needs at the moment.

Zimbabwe came in after having scared Bangladesh and South Africa in a T20 tri-series recently and were expected to provide stiff opposition to the home team. But for their spinners, their performance was abysmal.

Jeevan Mendis contributed with both bat and ball © AFP

Watching the game from The Cricket Club Café in Colombo was special as it allowed picking the brains of cricket fans from all across the globe. Kyle Jarvis found some early swing. As debutante Dilshan Munaweere bunted a swinging low full-toss to the boundary, the tourists seemed as happy as the locals to have seen him straight in the playing XI. Ungainly fielding lapses helped the Lions to motor along at a rapid rate before the introduction of Utseya slowed things down a bit.The wickets might not be same as they were years ago, and the composition of Sri Lanka’s playing XI is a stark reminder of that. Gone are the days when their spinners squeezed the life out of opponents with their nagging accuracy. Instead, nippy medium-pacers in Kulasekara, Mathews and Perera are now their prime middle-over bowlers with Ajanta Mendis and Lasith Malinga providing the attacking options.

It was always going to be an uphill task for Zimbabwe against such an attack if they didn’t restrict the Lions to fewer than 150. Poor fielding and insipid bowling put paid to that as Sangakkara and Jeevan Mendis put on a crucial 94-run partnership, studded with some very imaginative and powerful stroke play by the southpaws. By the end, the Zimbabweans had run out of breath and were batted out of the game.

Kulasekara found early swing and troubled the Zimbabwean openers. Ajanta Mendis seems to have found mojo again after being back after a long injury lay off. Zimbabwe seemed clueless against him, as Mendis finished with figues of 6 for 8, one that is a bit hard to digest even in a high-school game.

ESPN Cricinfo’s The Two Chucks, Jarrod Kimber and Sam Collins, who were at The Clricket Club Café had different views on Ajanta Mendis. Kimber said, “I’d doubt if they’d even play Mendis in the latter stages of the tournament as most top teams have worked him out.” On the other hand, Sam Collins picked Sri Lanka as his favourite to win the World Cup.

Even as Zimbabwe seemed clueless against Jeevan Mendis and Ajanta Mendis, newly wed couple Kit and Kate Stephenson from the UK seemed unequivocal of their favourites – Sri Lanka.

As Malinga came back to finish a very one-sided opening game to this edition of World T20, it is quite obvious that Sri Lanka have all bases covered and would be one of the strongest contenders for the tile. While no team coming in to the tournament was a runaway favourite, Sri   Lanka might have their noses ahead of others at the moment.

I, for one, would not be surprised to see Akila Danajaya force his way in to the playing XI in the later stages of the tournament at the expense of Ajanta Mendis. It seems to be the norm with Sri Lankan think tank with mystery spinners.

A long way to go yet, but Sri Lanka would be glad to have avoided an early blip.

This article was written for Island Cricket and first published there