Return of the prodigal son

Kusal Mendis Batting World Cup

Some batters like Vivian Richards and Sanath Jayasuriya make cricket a joy to watch with their brutal batting. Some others like Aravinda de Silva and Rahul Dravid are the classical type, purely depending on their timing and superior technique. They make batting look easy. There are of course batters whose trademark is flamboyance; Brian Charles Lara and David Warner. 

Which category does Kusal Mendis belong to? He probably falls into the middle category. This World Cup he’s been a sensation.  

After Aiden Markram had broken the record for the fastest century in World Cups on a Delhi belter, Mendis threatened to supersede the record the same day. He had drawn up his plans and targeted certain bowlers and let Kagiso Rabada alone. Eventually, he fell for Rabada himself. His celebration was proof that how badly South Africa wanted that wicket.   

In Hyderabad, on another belter, he got to three figures and in the process broke the Sri Lankan record for the fastest hundred in World Cups. Kumar Sangakkara had reached the milestone in 70 balls in the 2015 edition of the tournament. Mendis needed five balls lesser. 

There is every chance the record being improved again over the next fortnight, by Mendis himself. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore will be another flat deck and the square boundaries are less than 60 meters.  

Mendis has been a revelation in India. He just doesn’t put the loose balls away but picks up even good balls and dispatches them to the boundary with ease as he’s showcased during the first two encounters of the World Cup. 

For a long time, Sri Lanka have been waiting for a mainstay of their batting and while there were patches of brilliance, this World Cup has seen the emergence of Mendis as someone who can put the bowling to the sword. Yes, his efforts are yet to win Sri Lanka a game, but you sense that it’s just a matter of time before he nails it. 

From a young age, Mendis has been earmarked for grand things. But consistency has been lacking and the manner in which he throws away his wicket has been frustrating indeed.  

Kudos for a number of selection panels first for identifying that he needs to be fast tracked into the senior side despite not doing much in First Class cricket to warrant a place and then for persevering with him through tough times.  

You sometimes tend to think that Kumar Sangakkara’s batting feats are hard to be matched leave alone breaking them. One has fallen this week and if someone is going to knock them down it has got to be Mendis. There’s been never a question about his talent or technique. It has been always a case of temperament and to do it in a World Cup against quality attacks speaks volumes of how far he has come. It has been the return of the prodigal son.  

Keeping wickets probably helps him in batting having been able to see the ball better. With skipper Dasun Shanaka low on confidence, you often see Mendis managing the field and he does a decent job although he hasn’t been fully authorized with the tactical moves. The day that happens it will be interesting to see.  

Mendis and Babar Azam are same age; 28. While Babar has taken his game to the next level averaging 47 in Tests and 57 in ODIs, Mendis’ averages still linger around mid 30s. That has been hugely disappointing and frustrating for such a gifted man but the good news is that he appears to have turned a huge corner in this series. 

The other big plus factor for the batting is that Sadeera Samarawickrama has started firing. The whole package he offers is so complete that he should have been given the long rope to cement his place in the side much longer ago.   

But sadly once Graham Labrooy ended his term as Chief Selector he was thrown to the cold. Anyway the batters were not covering themselves in glory in the last six years and they had even an aggressive youth policy being launched. You wonder why Sadeera couldn’t get a look in much earlier. 

But better late than never. Sadeera is an attacking batsman who pounces on the loose balls. Sometimes too attacking earlier in his innings. He has tightened his defence and of course he is a top class fielder. Then, when you want back up wicketkeeping options he provides that too. 

Often people in India wonder why it has taken Sadeera such a long time to get a look in.  

It has been a disappointing start for Sri Lanka in this World Cup but all hope is not lost for them. Their spinners have not been able to cash in while the quicks have struggled on flat decks. A few batters need to fire as well and in Lucknow Sri Lanka could turn things around.