‘The next Murali’ was the memorable nickname given to this spin sensation but his constant battle with injuries proved to be a spoilsport in his career, resulting in him being denied the chance of featuring in the international circuit after 2015.
Free Hit contributor – Adeeb Saleemdeen
Army man Ajantha Mendis made his international debut back in 2008 amidst much hype. In his first ODI game against the West Indies he showed some promising signs of filling up the shoes of Sri Lanka’s Spin King Muttiah Muralitharan. He was a bowler who had a wide repertoire of deliveries in his arsenal. He had the capability of bowling the leg break, the googly, the top-spinner, the off-break and the carrom ball.
To date Ajantha Mendis has maintained a reasonably good record across all three formats of the game. His stats show that he has played 19 Test matches, dismissing 70 batsmen, while claiming four 5 wicket hauls. In the ODIs he has 152 dismissals with an economy rate of 4.8 and has picked up 66 wickets including two 6 wicket hauls in T20 format with an economy rate under 7.
However, despite his promising start constant injuries sidelined him from cricket for almost 2 years before he made a comeback in a spectacular way by leading the Sri Lankan outfit to win the Last Man Stands championship in 2017.
The Asia cup wizardry and a dream Test debut against India
In his first ODI appearance at the Asia cup 2008 the mystery spinner turned the tables towards Sri Lanka by ending the tournament as the highest wicket taker, picking up 17 wickets. Mendis led the bowling attack upfront alongside Muttiah Muralitharan in the finals – demolishing the Indian batting line up.
He ended the tournament on a high by winning the Man of the Match award in the final plus the Man of the Series award and ended the year by adding one more award to his collection by being crowned the Emerging Player of the Year at ICC cricket awards.
His Test debut too against India was phenomenal as he managed to claim an eight-wicket haul, becoming the first Sri lankan bowler to do so on Test debut. Sri Lanka ended victorious courtesy of the match winning performances by Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis.
Rollercoaster ride at the T20 World Cup
Mendis made an outstanding World Cup debut at the 2009 T20 World Cup by dismissing 12 batsmen and ended the tournament as second best on the highest wicket takers list. Disappointingly Sri Lanka was unable to match up to Pakistan’s outstanding performance in the finals and ended as runners up.
In the 2012 T20 World Cup with Sri Lanka carrying the home advantage, Mendis was able to use the familiar conditions very well and ended the campaign as the highest wicket taker, snatching 15 wickets. However his stellar performance was not enough to favor the home team who ended as runners up once again.
The first ever T20 World Cup triumph for Sri lanka came in 2014 under the captaincy of Lasith Malinga however this time around the mystery of Ajantha Mendis was missing. He only managed to pick up 4 wickets and ended the tournament with dismal stats despite the team’s success.
IPL stint in 2008
Ajantha Mendis was auctioned to the Kolkata knight riders in the second edition of the IPL. He only got a chance to play a single game in that particular season but the owners opted to retain him for the next two editions as well. Unfortunately, the owner’s faith in Mendis’s capabilities didn’t carry through and he was released by KKR in the following year.
He remained unsold at the 2011 and 2012 auctions and got an opportunity to represent the Pune Warriors franchise in the year 2013 but he couldn’t make an impact in that edition too. He ended his IPL stint picking up only 8 wickets in 10 IPL outings.
Hope for the Future – Akila and Mendis combination?
Akila Dhananjaya’s exceptional match figures of 6/54 against India take one’s memory back to the Asia cup heroics by Ajantha Mendis in 2008. He achieved his career best figures of 6/13 and it helped the Islanders end up as the Asia Cup champions. We witnessed how the spin twins of India, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal join forces and win matches in recent times but from Sri Lanka’s point of view, Akila Dhananjaya seemed to lack support in the spin department resulting in many fans and critics wondering if a Dhananjaya-Mendis combination of mystery spin could have saved Sri Lanka from suffering humiliating series defeats across the shorter formats in 2017.
We eagerly await to see if Ajantha Mendis will make his come back and reach top form before the all-important 2019 World Cup and this could be the break Sri Lanka has been waiting for.
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