Monday, July 07, 2008

Ajantha Mendis -- Unearthing a Rare Breed

It is not always that with patriotic allegiances ruling our hearts and minds, we appreciate the talents and exploits of the opposition in all sporting activities. Cricket is no different; every time Team India gains the upper hand, the expectations of the fans rise sky high. Ever since Dhoni has started captaining India in LOIs, their exploits have led them to even defeat the world champions, Australia in their own den. So, with all these preconceived notions that 'our' team was virtually unbeatable, the Asia Cup proved to be an eye opener.

Though the Lankans dominated the final proceedings against India, the bowling of Ajantha Mendis require all the praise. Thus, it becomes natural that you put your hands together to applaud in genuine terms, the rise of such a champion. Perhaps, there is something in the water and soil of Sri Lanka, that they produce such multi-talented cricketers. The 1996 World Cup triumph under Arjuna Ranatunga reinforced that fact. Mutthaiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas, Sanath Jayasuriya, Aravinda De Silva, Roshan Mahanama, and later Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, and Lasith Malinga. Now, Mendis just produces beauties. Claiming 6/13 in the final at Karachi, he scythed through the strong Indian batting line-up. Bamboozling the Indians with his varieties of deliveries just made him unpredictable. As Dhoni later admitted, the batsmen just failed to pick him. Getting enough tweak and turn from the surface, he just showed that it was not just the batsmen, but even bowlers could dominate in the current Asia Cup.

On a wicket which produced 300 runs on an average in every match, Mendis' efforts are really breath taking. Earlier taking a 5-for against the Pakistanis, he repeated the same effort on the right time against the Indians. In the final, Jayawardene marshalled his resources well and used Mendis with care. His deliveries opened up the chinks in the Indian armour. Deceiving Sehwag with one that went the other way leading to his stumping, he then got through the defences of Yuvraj and Raina with straighter ones flicked from the back of his hand. Further, he trapped Rohit Sharma in the front with another straighter one. While in the 1st spell, he gave just 8 runs in the four overs to earn these four wickets. He later returned in the 2nd spell to finish the game with 2 more wickets, especially the one of R.P.Singh with a classical leg break.

Possessing all the weapons in his armoury, Mendis bowls six different deliveries in an over. Thus, he has the top spinner, off-break, leg break, flipper, wrong un, the doosra, googly, slider and drifter. All these are showcased with remarkable ease, with subtle variations in his wrist action. Along with this, he also effortlessly changes the position of his fingers to bring about the desired variations in the flight and trajectory. This is done brilliantly by him through camouflage, thus making batsmen to pick him off his hand as the only way to deal him. However, in the demanding game at the LOI level, long levels of patience is not a virtue for the batsmen. However, not only in the air, he is also unpredictable off the pitch. Thereby, he has all the essential armaments of any spinner, whether its an off-spinner or leg-spinner. His special though, is termed as the Carrom Ball, that he delivers using his middle finger with the thumb as the back up, similar to playing carrom wherein one uses the same action to use the striker to hit other coins on the board. Playing for the Sri Lankan Army, Mendis was picked up for tour to West Indies and there, he displayed his talent at the international level for the first time. With the Indian tour to Lanka coming up, Mendis is set to play a big role for the home team. Such exceptional talent has turned Mendis to be one of the gems for the Lankans.

As said in the beginning, genuine talent should always be praised, irrespective of team affiliations. Mendis with his bowling varieties has come out as once in a generation cricketers. As laptops and analysis software descend to decipher his wizardry, science tries to master art. However, his success would be ensured, if he continues to mask his art with mystery in spite of such heightened vigilance and surveillance of electronics on him. If properly nurtured, the game of cricket would be the biggest beneficiary, with such enormous and exceptional talent. There are times when you feel that it is art that is more superior to science and bio-mechanics. Mendis' night with the ball at the National Stadium in Karachi justifies your insights in this regard. Ajantha Mendis is indeed a very rare breed.

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