Kusal Mendis and Amila Aponso were once rivals, playing the 62nd ‘Battle of the Golds’ big match in 2012 between Prince of Wales’ College and St. Sebastian’s College, but now, four years later, they are scripting victories for Sri Lanka at the international level.

Kusal MendisMendis recorded his 5th ODI half century in just his 9th match last evening and the way he went about his business on Wednesday, when the chips were down, will have undoubtedly made a mark on Sri Lankan cricket fans.

After the historic Test series whitewash, skipper Angelo Mathews mentioned that Mendis’ 176 in Pallekelle was the turning point of the entire series and now Captain Marvel, who was named man-of-the-match in the 2nd ODI for his all-round performance of 57 runs and 2 wickets, had nothing but praise for the 21-year old batsman.

Amila Aponso
Amila Aponso led St. Sebastian’s College 1st XI Cricket Team in 2012. Picture Credits – Manoj Fernando
“He has been absolutely brilliant for us over the Test series and in the first couple of one-dayers. He’s going to be a big player for us. He’s going to be the future of our batting. If he keeps going like this he will do wonders for the Sri Lanka team, and I wish him all the very best. It was a fantastic knock today.” Mathews said at the post-match press conference.

After being 12 for 2, any player would hesitate to play their natural game but Mendis showcased everything we have seen from him in the last couple of months in that 64-run knock – flair, class, timing and elegance.

“He’s just very positive. Especially after losing a couple of wickets in quick succession, the way he went out there and the way he batted was brilliant. Not too many people do that. You take a bit of time and settle in and take a look at the wicket. But he’s just going out there and playing with a lot of freedom. He’s just a different kind of player.”  Mathews went on to say.

Amila AponsoAnother player who drew the praise of Mathews was 23 year old Amila Aponso. Australia had no clue when playing Rangana Herath during the Test series and they would have been pleased to note that Herath had retired from the limited-overs cricket earlier this year but their relief was short lived as Aponso wreaked havoc among the Aussie batting line-up last evening.

The selectors took the chance of handing a debut to the untested left-arm spinner and it worked out perfectly for the hosts. His spell of 1 for 27 in the first ODI earned special praise from the skipper, “I thought Amila bowled the best out of the lot. Dilruwan Perera was steady, but the way Amila bowled was fantastic. This is actually the first time I’m seeing him. He bowled extremely well and I’m very pleased.”

Kusal MendisOn Wednesday night, Aponso was brought on to the attack during the first powerplay when Steve Smith was batting beautifully; he pitched the ball up tempting Smith to go over the top and got the crucial wicket in only his second delivery of the match.

After conceding only 3 runs from his 1st 3 overs, Mathews reserved his left-arm spinner for later in the innings. He struck in the first over of his second spell to castle George Bailey.

With the other spinners doing the job in the middle overs, Aponso returned to clean up the tail and got the final two wickets and ended with excellent figures of 4 for 18, he is yet to concede a boundary in his short international career.

Mathews was even more impressed after seeing the youngster bowl in the 2nd ODI, “Aponso was outstanding out there. He’s just landing it on the spot and keeping it pretty simple. He’s just bowling it there and letting the ball do the rest. He’s been turning a few and sliding a few. It’s been extremely difficult for the batters. He’s bowling like he’s played internationals for a long time.”

Aponso is clearly getting things right in his 1st series and even Kumar Sangakkara and Rangana Herath weighed in on the spinner’s exploits via twitter,

What has no doubt been most satisfying for the players, administrators and fans is the fact that it is the ‘young brigade’ that is getting the job done for the Sri Lankans.

Mathews, who has long been burdened with the responsibility of being the mainstay of the Lankan batting line-up, is clearly optimistic about these youngsters who are turning out to be match winners.

“The new players played really well. We needed some new blood in this team especially Kusal Mendis, Amila Aponso also Dhananjaya de Silva – who might have failed in this match but I think he will play really well in the future, to accept the challenge and play well. We can see now that they are very good, we trust that they will play well in the future as well.”