Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe, World T20 2012, Group C, Hambantota

The mysterious career of Ajantha Mendis

Despite losing his aura in the longer formats, Ajantha Mendis remains a threat in T20, where batsmen cannot afford to see him off

Andrew Fernando in Hambantota

September 18, 2012

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Ajantha Mendis recorded best ever T20I bowling figures, Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe, Group C, World T20 2012, Hambantota, September 18, 2012
Ajantha Mendis picked up the best figures in T20 international history © Associated Press
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Ajantha Mendis' international career has been almost as vexing as his variations themselves. Hyped as the next Muttiah Muralitharan while Murali was still playing, Mendis painted a target on his back with a phenomenal first 18 months at the top level. When he was a debutant in Port of Spain, West Indies batsmen wondered whether they would ever decipher him, given they couldn't even pick his variations on the slow-motion replay. In the Asia Cup two months later, Mendis was by far the highest wicket taker, having inflicted a gobsmacking 6 for 13 to ruin India in the final. In three home Tests that followed, he plundered 26 wickets at 18.38 against supposedly the best players of spin bowling.

Yet as emphatic and immediate as his success was, his aura diminished just as quickly in the next phase of his career. Batsmen from the subcontinent rallied the resistance - first Pakistan, who were un-flummoxed by him in two Tests in Sri Lanka, before India sniped back at their old tormentor in another Test series in India. Soon England, Australia and even New Zealand were managing his threat. The hauls began to grow lighter, the runs flowed more freely, and with Murali also dimming towards the end of his career, Sri Lanka's spin attack suddenly lost its bite. Mendis had become the quickest bowler to 50 ODI wickets, managing that feat in 19* matches. In 40 games since, he has added only 46 scalps to that tally. In all formats combined, the three years since that initial 18 months have only yielded him 32% of his wickets - though that is in part due to fewer opportunities, which in turn is largely the result of poor form.

Still, despite the dive in ODI and Test results, Mendis has remained a threat in Twenty20s. Last year against Australia in Pallekele, Mendis took 6 for 16 in a match-turning spell, to record the best figures in the format. He has now bettered that with 6 for 8 in the World Twenty20 opener against Zimbabwe. His average of 9.84 and economy rate of 5.45 are the best of any bowler to have taken more than 25 wickets. There are no major changes to Mendis' game, but in a format where batsmen need to be aggressive, his fingers seem to retain their old charm. It is something his captain seems aware of, when he routinely brings him on in the Powerplays.

Hamilton Masakadza found out how difficult Mendis is to attack when he attempted to swipe one away to the legside, but misread the turn completely, and had his stumps rattled by a googly that slotted in nicely between bat and pad.

"He gives you very little to score off," Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor said. "When you're chasing nine an over you have to go after some bowler. He was on top of his game tonight and probably caught us off guard a bit."

Earlier, Vusi Sibanda was bowled by Mendis' straighter one, before Taylor himself was undone by the carrom ball. Elton Chigumbura attempted a similar shot to Masakadza, and succumbed in almost identical fashion to the same Mendis delivery. The harvest might have become leaner in other formats but here Mendis' full house of trickery still reigned supreme, even if this was his first game after a long layoff due to a back injury.

"Ajantha was very keen to get back into the side and we saw that hunger in him," the Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene said after the match. "Even in the domestic tournament [SLPL] he came back and bowled really well. That was the indicator to see how match fit he was and how much control he had. This was his first game in eight months and he was a bit nervous before the game but he bowled really well."

Mendis' real tests will come against opposition who will have studied him more closely on video, and are better equipped with the batting tools to read him more accurately than Zimbabwe did. South Africa will provide the initial examination on Saturday.

"He's comeback strongly and hopefully he'll continue to do the job," Jayawardene said. "I'm sure he'll have bad days but the quality of the player is that he'll have more good days than bad."

The theories to explain Mendis' recent woes in the longer formats are many. He has not bowled a wicket-to-wicket line, some say, and when he strays he goes blunt and is easy to pick off. Others say the mystery has expired. Teams have simply worked him out, and since Mendis is not a spinner who relies on flight, dip or extravagant rip, once the batsmen know which way it will turn, he loses his effectiveness. Still others have suggested batsmen have succeeded in playing him as a seam bowler, like they did to Anil Kumble (though if this was all it took to unhinge both bowlers, it would have been worked out earlier in Mendis' career, and Kumble would not have finished with 619 Test wickets).

Can Mendis prove he can still be a force for Sri Lanka with more fine spells in the tournament? His career at large needs a serious boost, and though he may never be the bowler his initial surge suggested, he will hope he can use his favourite format as a launching pad to success in others.

*04:34 GMT, September 19: The article had incorrectly stated 17 matches. That has been changed.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (September 20, 2012, 5:30 GMT)

where he was against india...entire sieris he didnt playe coz fear of shehwag...he only get wickets against minnow teams..

Posted by India_boy on (September 20, 2012, 4:09 GMT)

@wishw....malinga and mendis? is that why u havent beaten us in a long long time, all around the world ???? hahahahahahahaha

Posted by Htc-Android on (September 20, 2012, 4:02 GMT)

@SamRoy. okay. ashwin is a good bowler. who is ojha,Umesh Yadav, Shami Ahmed, Parvinder Awana and Harmeet Singh? ur too funny mate.

Posted by WishW on (September 20, 2012, 3:16 GMT)

@Samroy...Malinga and Mendis are not good in test matches?do you forget how both of them destroyed India's so called 'strong' battign line up?Sachin couldn't get his bat down in time when facing the great malinga yorker...Ashwin and Ojha just bowled well against NZ..can you call that a battign line up?you're too funny

Posted by   on (September 20, 2012, 3:01 GMT)

@SamRoy you're right in saying Glenn was a superstar, but lost complete respect by naming Ashwin, Ojha, Umesh Yadav, Shami Ahmed, Parvinder Awana and Harmeet Singh as "good bowlers". NONE of these players will even make the Sri Lankan club side! Ashwin was simply awful in Aus and has not performed anywhere properly outside his home. Sri Lankan bowlers are not great anymore after Murali left, but overall significantly better than Indian 'bowlers'. NO ONE to be scared of Indian "bowlers", but every side is aware of Malinga, Rangana. Only reason you guys win so many ODI matches is because of some outstandingly incredible batsmen in your side, like Kholi, MSD etc

Posted by MainCulprit on (September 19, 2012, 20:08 GMT)

@ SamRoy - For Herath from SL, India should have 50. The few names you mentioned aren't enough. The equation is 1/50. What a silly comment.... and why are we not surprised... ;)

Posted by stormy16 on (September 19, 2012, 17:37 GMT)

I feel Mendis as this stage is a 'spin' minow basher. Aus and Zim arent the best players of spin neither have they palyed Mendis much. The real test is how he will fare against teams who are good players of spin and those who have played him a few times. One things for sure - if you cant read him, god help you!

Posted by   on (September 19, 2012, 13:40 GMT)

m&m turned the game!great start by sri lanka! we must win matches constantly and we must beat India Somehow. All the best for next game against SA

Posted by SamRoy on (September 19, 2012, 13:34 GMT)

@India_boy Ponting and Warne were failures in India in test matches. But McGrath? 8 matches, 33 wickets, average 21.3, strike rate 56.9 and rpo 2.23. Either you haven't seen test cricket or have no knowledge about test cricket. So, be careful when you comment. Oh, by the way, @WishW Malinga and Mendis aren't all that good in test matches and we have Ashwin and Ojha who are better than anyone you guys have. The only decent test bowler in SL team is Herath. Rest will struggle to make a first class side in Australia. India have Ashwin, Ojha, Umesh Yadav, Shami Ahmed, Parvinder Awana and Harmeet Singh. Apart from Herath which good bowler do you guys have?

Posted by   on (September 19, 2012, 13:06 GMT)

i'm a Lankan fan but i admit Ajmal is currently easily the best spinner going around. Mendis needs to be consistent in other formats as well before we compare.

Posted by voyager on (September 19, 2012, 12:36 GMT)

From Pak fan...Its not fair to compare, he is different. When he is on song he destroys batting lines like no other, like he did yesterday or like he did in his last T20 against Australia. In the end no matter how mysterious you are you still have to bowl with discipline and to corrent line and length, my observation is that when he does that he is unplayable and can find so many ways and so many paths to keep tapping the stumps with the ball. Who else can claim that he has hit Dravid stumps right infront of his eyes (and in Dravid's prime). If I am selector or captain he would be in my team.

Posted by igorolman on (September 19, 2012, 12:22 GMT)

I'm British, and Ajmal doesn't chuck it. He bowls with a bent arm. THIS IS NOT ILLEGAL. You just can't *straighten* the arm more than 15 degrees. And since Mendis doesn't spin it most of the time, what does it matter if it's a (straight) offie, a (straight) leggie or a (straight) carrom ball? Look back at Johnny Gleeson for what happens when a mystery spinner gets worked out.

Posted by gabrialgihan on (September 19, 2012, 12:05 GMT)

@ vkypak mate mendis previous best was 6 for 16 against australia.. i wont say he is overall better than Ajmal but ajmals no 1 in t 20 because mendis didnt play 4 a while.initially mendis was no in t 20 and ajmal was not even in the list..No hard feelings yes mendis is not close to ajmal or kumble.. but both of them miles behind from the legend murali

Posted by gabrialgihan on (September 19, 2012, 11:56 GMT)

@Pakeeran Siriratnam agreed mate ajmal need 30 lives to get to muralis level and get 800 test wickets

Posted by gabrialgihan on (September 19, 2012, 11:48 GMT)

India_boy is that y india lost 6 wickets for 13 runs for mendis... he is not good as ajmal but way better than ashwin though

Posted by MENDIS_Forever on (September 19, 2012, 11:17 GMT)

As a Sri Lankan,I'm happy with Mendis' performance.But comparing him with Ajmal makes me laugh.Ajmal is way better than Mendis.

Posted by WishW on (September 19, 2012, 10:53 GMT)

@Indiaboy..please dont direct your disappointment in your weak Indian team at me...we all know your bowlers cant even come close to the standards and class of Mendis and Malinga...and why are you getting all worked up about an offspinner who bowls with a bent arm?

Posted by India_boy on (September 19, 2012, 9:47 GMT)

@WishW...if Mendis plays India again, he will not bowl his full quota of 4 overs since he will be thrashed like a helpless kid. if he does get to bowl his full quota, forget 6-for something, he will go for 60-something in four overs. forgot Malinga's figures in Hobart - 7.4-0-96-0? I have nothing against Mendis but please dont embarrass him by putting such comments like Mendis>ajmal. The main difference is, Mendis is way easy to read while Ajmal is almost impossible to read (From an Indian fan) @Peter4135...yes suddenly he is star again, just like Ponting, Mcgrath, Warne were stars despite having below medicore averages in subcontinent (specially India)

Posted by waterboy786 on (September 19, 2012, 9:31 GMT)

lol transferred ajantha mendis out of my fantasy team before the match!!!!!!!!

Posted by   on (September 19, 2012, 9:02 GMT)

SL has to win iot all. then we can talk of Ajantha and sanga and all. otherwise its too early.

Posted by vkypak on (September 19, 2012, 8:59 GMT)

from pakistan......com on cricket fans mendis performed well against zimbabwe the team who is nowhere conditions helped alot as well, and people talking about great kumble and ajmal...so fans kumble is a past legend he performed against top teams so many times and ajmal is a current legend so mendis is far behind against these two legends, wait n c how mendis perform against india ,pakistan .........and my dear srilankans tournament just at the begining congrats for ur first victory.....

Posted by colombo_SL on (September 19, 2012, 8:50 GMT)

He is a good bowler. As a Sri Lankan, i feel Ajmal is good than him in all formats. Long way to go for Mendis in his career. Hope he will be consistent. We appreciate Ajmal as a good bowler.

Posted by   on (September 19, 2012, 8:23 GMT)

@ all the guys laughing at comparisons of Ajmal to mendis. Now you know how the world feels when someone like Ajmal, a very good spinner in the last few years in subcontinent pitches, is compared to Murali, the greatest ever. In fact, gap between Ajmal and Murali is far greater than that between ajmal and mendis

Posted by Alexk400 on (September 19, 2012, 7:38 GMT)

if people play with straight bat can play him well. Any across shot is disaster against him.

Posted by WishW on (September 19, 2012, 7:34 GMT)

@Ahmed Abbas, @Counterstrike @sobersfan, - - WhyIi said Mendis is better than ajmal is because his action is much less questionable than Ajmals...simple..no unfair advantage for Mendis

Posted by Sri_Lankan_pride_50 on (September 19, 2012, 7:09 GMT)

It's nice to see Mendis back to his best but Ajmal is way better than him and this is coming from a SL fan. Mendis is still a lot younger though so we'll see what happens when he is at the peak of his career.

Posted by procric on (September 19, 2012, 7:02 GMT)

Don't say anything, if you have it then do it. Cricket is game of bat and ball not magics.

Posted by   on (September 19, 2012, 6:56 GMT)

Those who plays against him for the first time, would find it hard to pick him, just like against Malinga. But on getting significant exposure, the mystery gets unfolded, and he becomes an average bowler. The Indians, who struggled very much against him at the first few matches, now has rallied against him and amassed runs against him as well as Malinga. So I think, Ireland, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh to be careful, who are not well equipped at playing quality spins. All the other teams, would have Mendis under controlled, even Newzealand.

Posted by   on (September 19, 2012, 6:41 GMT)

As Sathish commented, Ajantha is mysterious. This magician is reborn with magical bowling. Love to see his bowling against India. Well done Ajantha. All the very best.

Posted by AMAZINGFAN on (September 19, 2012, 6:35 GMT)

@WishW,LOL AJMAL IS ANYTIME BETTER THAN ORDINARY MENDIS WHO BOWLS WELL ONLY AGAINST MINNOWS.AJMAL IS THE BEST SPINNER IN THE WORLD NOW.AND IF HE PLAY AGAINST INDIA THEN HE WILL STRUGGLE TO GET EVEN ONE WICKET.OUR BATSMAN WILL NOT PLAY HIM DEFENSIVELY INSTEAD OUR BATSMAN WILL ATTACK HIM.

Posted by Osama_Siddiqui on (September 19, 2012, 6:34 GMT)

@ Andrew Fernando and Cricinfo editors. You may want to correct your article, Sri Lanka cannot face Pakistan in the Super 8s.

Posted by   on (September 19, 2012, 6:28 GMT)

Well I remember Kamran Akmal hitting him for huge sixes,which was the first real insult to his mysteries and then his decline started... Kamran Akmal is again in the form of his life,so please Jayawardene keep your mystery man away from Akmal to extend his career.... Its really hard to swallow when u consider yourself a mystery man and someone just comes in and thrashes you all over the park... (yes I am a Paki fan offcourse)..

Posted by   on (September 19, 2012, 6:21 GMT)

Congratulations for achieving the best figures in International T20 Tournament currently being played in Sri Lanka.

Posted by arvind.Kejriwal.AAP_A_Better_INDIA_ on (September 19, 2012, 6:07 GMT)

@ WishW - Comparing Mendis to Ajmal ? Mendis picked 6-for against Zimbabwe not World XI. We will see, how Mendis performs against Quality batting sides that too in Tests and ODIs.

Posted by   on (September 19, 2012, 5:39 GMT)

@wishW...r u kidding me mate...him being better than Ajmal???? Ajmal has been performing consistently....u make me laugh...mendis needs atleast 3 lives to get to ajmal's level!!!! Ajmal the best spinner in the world ranked 1,1 and 3 in odi ,t20 and test respectively.

Posted by colombo_SL on (September 19, 2012, 5:38 GMT)

(This is the description on Ajantha Mendis in his profile;) Ajantha Mendis reintroduced mystery to spin in the era of video analysts and super-slow-motion replays. Much like the original mystery spinner, Jack Iverson, and the other practitioner of the "Iversons", John Gleeson, Mendis stunned the world with his finger-flicked legbreaks. His Iversons came with a new name, the "carrom ball", taken from the way the striker is flicked in the popular board game in the subcontinent. (Well done bro:)

Posted by skhurram.com on (September 19, 2012, 5:30 GMT)

The way to play him - even if not reading him - is not get on back-foot until it is really short. The batsmen tends to get on back foot in order to gain time to read the ball from pitch which leads to their failures. Play him on the front foot. I don't know if it is easier for all or not, but you can get the way it is turning towards by checking the revolution on the ball after leaving his hand. Reference: I am a good reader of spin and could read the ball either from the hand of spinner or by checking the revolution on the ball.

Posted by colombo_SL on (September 19, 2012, 5:16 GMT)

Congratulattion Ajantha; Yo have long way to go. Make your nation proud of you!

Posted by   on (September 19, 2012, 4:52 GMT)

Ajantha mendis struggled since the 2008 india tour of of SL, the reason for it was his injury & he bowled at different pace, he should bowl at one pace, 80 - 90 kmph, thats what he did yesterday, he struggled for the last 3 years because he bowled 60,70,80,90,100kmph in one over.

Posted by   on (September 19, 2012, 4:40 GMT)

A very elegently written article by Andrew Fernando but with some points of contention. Mendis was injured (not mentioned) and he has come back notice-ably physically stronger.... The true mystery is can he translate his genius to Test level if given the opportunity. He can rip through a team like few others. His last two 20/20 performances have reeped 12 wickets for 24. The two greatest spinners Warne and Murali never took 6 for 8 then 6 for 16 at international level. Some special players stand out and Mendis is one of these. Think Lara's accomplishment in hitting 375 and later 400 n.o. If he does become a success at Test level he could be unique.

Posted by suni550 on (September 19, 2012, 4:23 GMT)

among all the batsmen Mendis bowled.. Gambhir read him very well. Nice to the contest Gambhir Vs Mendis

Posted by Jose on (September 19, 2012, 4:12 GMT)

He troubled Zimbabwe, but cannot trouble sub-continent rivals.

Posted by peter4135 on (September 19, 2012, 4:06 GMT)

And suddenly he's a star again...what a joke! How about doing that outside the subcontinent against SA or AUS then we can talk.

Posted by   on (September 19, 2012, 4:05 GMT)

BAWM is one of the best in all time who is not properly managed and pushed. it is simple theory that murali was succeeded because of arjuna. the way arjuna protected was the best example and he knew who murali can be. it is the duty of mahela to look after him and develop for future. his nature is having the best action one can say as "mystery ".

Posted by theswami on (September 19, 2012, 3:46 GMT)

Against India, Pakistan, SA, England he will be battered hammer & tongs, beat blue and back .... Its just that the Zims were novices who had'nt faced him before ...

Posted by   on (September 19, 2012, 3:31 GMT)

" and with Pakistan set to be in Sri Lanka's group in the Super Eights"...wrong, Sri Lanka will play with New Zealand, West Indies, and England in the super eights while Pakistan will be in the group with India, Australia, and South Africa...

Posted by WishW on (September 19, 2012, 3:17 GMT)

If he plays India agaian..he will get yet another 6-for..!!!...watch out people...the magician has returned... Mendis > Ajmal

Posted by joseyesu on (September 19, 2012, 3:09 GMT)

If Mendis was introduced fresh in WC11, sure SL would have win it comprehensively. Other than ASIA cup, mendis has not been effective. Let see this t20.

Posted by satish619chandar on (September 19, 2012, 2:38 GMT)

He is indeed a mystery man. I guess SL shouldn't play him against Pakistan and India. Both the teams have figured him out very well and are dealing him very easily. But play him against all other opponents atleast in the big tournaments. That will maintain his surprise element a surprise one for longer period.

Posted by   on (September 19, 2012, 1:21 GMT)

Well come back to the game. Prove to the cricket world your the best. All the best Ajantha.

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Sri Lanka v West Indies at Colombo (RPS) - Oct 7, 2012
West Indies won by 36 runs
Australia v West Indies at Colombo (RPS) - Oct 5, 2012
West Indies won by 74 runs
Sri Lanka v Pakistan at Colombo (RPS) - Oct 4, 2012
Sri Lanka won by 16 runs
India v South Africa at Colombo (RPS) - Oct 2, 2012
India won by 1 run
Australia v Pakistan at Colombo (RPS) - Oct 2, 2012
Pakistan won by 32 runs
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