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Ajantha Mendis – Sri Lanka’s New Spin Phenomenon
Of course, it is too early to expect Mendis to have the same impact as Murali, but there is no doubt that he is a truly exciting prospect. A spinner with no stock ball who can bowl at medium pace but still spin the ball, Mendis is very difficult to classify. He is a finger spinner but can spin the ball like a wrist spinner and is deadly. A fine mix of attributes and the success he has enjoyed in his fledgling career suggests that there are many more wickets to come.
Mendis is 23 years old, young for a spinner on the international stage but old enough not to be a youthful prodigy. He has played just 19 first-class matches (taking 111 wickets) but is already part of Sri Lanka’s first-choice One Day line-up. A Test call-up cannot be far away and there is no reason to believe he cannot succeed in the toughest form of the game.
The key to his success is variety. Finger spinners usually rotate the ball between the thumb and forefinger, giving a slight spin from the offside to the leg side. Until Saqlain Mushtaq developed a ‘doosra’ which pivoted from leg to off, finger spinners were one-dimensional and easier to play than accurate leg spinners.
Mendis has an unusual grip which sees him release the ball with a flick of the fingers out the front of the hand. Some balls go straight on, others turn to leg or to off, and some rush, even if they are low and with speed. In other words, he bowls a mix of offbreaks, legbreaks, arm balls and googlies. Confused? The batsmen facing him certainly are, not least because the bowler himself has no idea what’s coming next.
This is not to doubt Mendis’ ability or ability to outwit the batsmen. Of course, he knows how to exploit his variations; it’s just the extent of twist that can be a mystery. He has therefore been dubbed a ‘mystery spinner’ and his biggest challenge will be to maintain his secrecy as batsmen face him more.
The youngster seems up to that challenge. He maintained his poise and accuracy when he was brought into the attack in the 10th over of India’s innings in the Asia Cup final when fielding restrictions were still in place. Virender Sehwag was in the middle of a typical top order attack but Mendis dismissed him with his second ball and never looked back.
Final figures of six for 13 off eight overs marked his arrival on the international stage. He had quiet success in the West Indies earlier this year, but in decimating the world’s best batting line-up – who afterwards admitted they were helpless to read his deliveries – Mendis has announced himself as a future star.
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