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Novelist, essayist and historian based in New Delhi

Spin kills

Never before Mendis has a spinner dominated Indian batsmen so comprehensively and collectively

Mukul Kesavan

August 22, 2008

Comments: 57 | Text size: A | A

The ball of the 21st century: Dravid squared up and stunned, his off stump disturbed, was more significant than Gatting's dismissal by Warne © AFP

I had followed India's Test fortunes for 45 years, and never once in that time had I seen the Indian batsmen devastated by a slow bowler through a whole series. Just before the Indian tour of Sri Lanka began, India were beaten by Sri Lanka in the final of the Asia Cup. Mahendra Singh Dhoni confessed that his batsmen couldn't read Ajantha Mendis at all. I was intrigued by the prospect of Tendulkar and Co. - who hadn't taken part in the ODI tournament - playing this latter-day John Gleeson over a Test rubber, but not especially worried because of India's record against spin bowlers.

They had played some good ones. The first Test series I followed was the MCC's tour of 1963-64, and England's main strike-bowler was that fine offspinner, Fred Titmus, who took 27 wickets in five Tests. Every one of those Tests, though, was drawn. In the last Test in Kanpur, India followed on, thanks to a marathon spell of fine slow bowling by Titmus, whose bowling analysis in the first innings read: 60-37-73-6. But he made no headway in the second innings, managing one wicket in 34 overs as India saved the match comfortably.

This set the tone for India's encounters with opposing spinners: the good ones like Titmus, Lance Gibbs, Derek Underwood, Ashley Mallett, Abdul Qadir, Saqlain Mushtaq, Shane Warne and Muthiah Muralitharan got wickets, but not consistently enough to instill fear. Underwood claimed one five-wicket haul in 20 matches. Warne, the greatest legspinner in the history of the game, averaged some 47 runs per wicket against India, and like Underwood managed five wickets in an innings once.

There was something purposeful about the way in which Indian batsmen set about spinners. I remember Tendulkar going after Warne in a first-class game in Mumbai in 1998-99, when the legspinner arrived, riding the crest of his reputation as the greatest spinner in the world. Tendulkar hit a double century, and Warne went for more than 100 for no wickets. Then Navjot Singh Sidhu decided Warne had to go in the Test series, and we were treated to the rare spectacle of convergence in cricket: a spinner walking up to the stumps to bowl and a batsman running down the wicket to hit him. VVS Laxman and Tendulkar, in the 2000-01 home series, nearly ended Warne's career; by the time India won the last Test in Chennai, Warne was reduced to bowling bouncers.

Murali has a better record against India than Warne: 88 wickets at a little over 30 runs per wicket, and more significantly he has bagged six five-fors. I remember a sensational spell of bowling by Murali at the Feroz Shah Kotla, where he went round the wicket, and for half an hour had the Indians groping as his doosras spat off the pitch and jagged away and his offspinners straightened. But for all his genius, Murali was never feared by Indian batsmen in the way that men like Fred Trueman, Wes Hall, Alan Donald and Glenn McGrath were.

Till the helmet arrived, most Indian batsmen were so vulnerable to quick bowling, that spinners, regardless of quality, were seen as light relief. After the helmet, they improved against the fast men, but retained the traditional view of opposing spinners as extras, men who made up the numbers. Occasionally, when the stars were strangely aligned, India lost a Test to spinners, as in Bangalore when Tauseef Ahmed and Iqbal Qasim caught India on a breaking pitch in 1986-87, but it was a happening rare enough to be remembered and brooded over.

Indians were excellent players of spin because the quality of spin bowling in domestic cricket was exceptional. In that Kanpur Test against England in 1963-64, India played three legspinners and two left-arm orthodox slow bowlers: BS Chandrasekhar, Baloo Gupte, Chandu Borde, Salim Durani and Bapu Nadkarni. The bowling was opened by the fearsome tearaway, ML Jaisimha, along with Durani. The proliferation of first-rate spinners meant that any successful batsman in domestic cricket played slow bowling very, very well.

Till the helmet arrived, most Indian batsmen were so vulnerable to quick bowling, that spinners, regardless of quality, were seen as light relief. After the helmet, they improved against the fast men, but retained the traditional view of opposing spinners as extras
This basically meant that even the average Indian batsman read turn from the bowler's hand, not off the pitch, and used his feet to get to the pitch of the ball to minimise spin. Gundappa Viswanath, Sunil Gavaskar, Mohinder Amarnath, Mohammad Azharuddin, Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Laxman, Rahul Dravid, all played slow bowlers in this way. Even Indian batsmen of the second rank, like Ravi Shastri and Sidhu, treated decent spin bowlers with nimble-footed contempt.

So the Asia Cup defeat didn't worry me because the Fabulous Four - Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly, arguably the best players of spin bowling in the world over long and distinguished careers, hadn't figured in that team. I wasn't complacent, but it was reasonable to believe that they would figure Mendis out. The last freak spinner they had played, Paul Adams, hadn't puzzled them for a minute. While Mendis was clearly the better bowler, given his limited-overs performance and Bishan Bedi's testimonial, how dangerous could a Test debutant be, given the collective experience of the best batting line-up?

Very dangerous. It was Dravid's dismissal in the first Test that set the alarms off. Nobody in the world plays later off the back foot than Dravid did. The sight of him, crease-bound, stabbing down on Mendis down a middle-stump line, missing by a mile and the ball taking the off bail was a more significant moment in the history of Test cricket than the much-celebrated ball, which Warne ripped across Mike Gatting to bowl him. For two reasons: Dravid is by some distance the better batsman, and offspinners aren't meant to bowl fast legbreaks.

Everyone has a theory about how Mendis engineered this unprecedented, spin-prompted collapse. So do I. Before going there, though, it's useful to remember that he didn't do it alone. If he took 26 wickets, Murali took 21 and the Sri Lankan seamers chipped in whenever they were needed. Still, after allowing for these supporting roles, what Mendis did was extraordinary. In the six Test innings played in the series, he dismissed Laxman five times, Dravid four times, Gambhir three times and Tendulkar once.

The consensus seems to be that they couldn't read his mystery ball, but the real problem seemed to be that even when they did read it (and by the end of the series it looked as if Laxman and Dravid had begun to recognise the knuckle-ball from the hand, in that they could distinguish it from his offspinner and his googly), they couldn't tell if the ball was going to zip straight through or turn away. Since the knuckle-ball pitched in line, if the batsman played down the wrong line he was either lbw or bowled. It must have been a bit like playing Chandrasekhar, not knowing if the googly was going to turn or shoot through like a topspinner.

Sultans of Spin: Mendis and Murali are two of the few spinners who have done well against India © AFP

The problem was aggravated by the fact that it was hard to go down the wicket to Mendis because his knuckle-ball was faster and shorter in length than his normal delivery; there wasn't the time to get to the pitch. Tendulkar, Laxman, Ganguly and Dravid were slower and less confident than they had been in their prime, so they stretched down the pitch in defence, but this didn't work as it might have done once, because the review system being tried out in this series meant that the big stride forward no longer received the benefit of the doubt.

Why did Sehwag succeed when the others failed? His technique has always been fundamentally different from that of the others. His footwork is minimal, he plays alongside the ball without committing himself to a line till the last moment and he played Mendis off the pitch. It worked for him because his hand-eye coordination is exceptional, and his instinct is to attack: Mendis never got an opportunity to set him up as he did with the more defensive Dravid or Laxman.

So is Mendis a comet or a star? The latter, I think, because unlike with other mystery men, a batsman could teach himself to recognise the grip of his knuckle-ball without ever being sure that he could read its turn. Given his accuracy, temperament and variety (we shouldn't forget that he bowls a mean offbreak and a decent googly) his debut signals someone special. Unluckily, it also announces the end of something special. Thirty years ago, in a landmark three-Test series, Zaheer Abbas, helped by Javed Miandad, caned India's great spin trio into retirement. Ajantha Mendis, I suspect, has just rung the curtain down on another great foursome.

Mukul Kesavan is a novelist, essayist and historian based in New Delhi. This article was first published in the Kolkata Telegraph

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Posted by panku11 on (August 27, 2008, 10:54 GMT)

Good Article.

But I dont think it is fair to compare him with Warne and Murali. Mendis has just made his debut and once people start scoring runs off his bowling then one would see how is copes with the pressure.Warne and murali have been doing it for the last decade and with distinction. I think that Mendis would learn as he goes on and then we would be able to comment.

Posted by shivaji28 on (August 26, 2008, 17:09 GMT)

Excellent article by Mr. Kesavan. However, what about the Dhoni strategy in the last two tests? The One-Day captain has said that he would attack Mendis every time he could anticipate a bad ball from him, instead of playing defensively which is what the test batsmen did, all except Sehwag.

Does the success of Dhoni's strategy have anything to with the fact that bowlers have only 10 overs to bowl, hold down runs and take wickets? Or is it that Dhoni, Badrinath, Raina have found a successful method against this lethal spinner.

I was impressed as much by the mentality of Dhoni and company as their tactic: they took runs, singles and doubles, almost every ball while Mendis and Murali were doing their thing.

Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly! Are you watching?

Shivaji Sengupta, Ph.D. New York City

Posted by archis100 on (August 25, 2008, 7:41 GMT)

By no stretch of imagination [and I have plenty in the offering..] I am an expert of this game. But I must admit my single minded devotion and following of the same. With all that, I have to agree with Mukul. That in this short time, Ajantha has unleashed something that I have never witnessed before, such utter dominance of spin over collective Indian will and willow. The only exception to this rule being Shewag, but wait a minute... he is the exception to all rules, right? My question though, is twofold. First, can anyone care to shed some light as to how he really does the off and the leg break involving his two fingers and not his wrist? From that, can someone logically extend as to why it has been so hard to read him? Secondly, how you feel about his longevity? Aren't you prone to an early exit because of the undue stress on the fingers? Finally, one last thought. Mendis has been unstoppable in the turning pitches of Sri Lanka. How effective you think he is going to be abroad?

Posted by Logical on (August 25, 2008, 2:53 GMT)

I was at Galle and watched the Galle test from a vantage position right behind the bowlers arm.Except for Mendis's carrom ball, the others (off break,leg break,googly) are all pickable .With Mendis, you have to "play back or drive" as Ranjitsinji used to say.In other words, play him of the backfoot unless you can kill the ball going forward.Tendulkar did this with success, so did Sehwag. The ones who pushed forward, Dravid and Yuvraj (in the recent onedayers) were at sea.However, picking Mendis is one thing, playing him well thereafter is another. He is very accurate. He will pick up tons of wickets.

Posted by skris on (August 24, 2008, 19:55 GMT)

Yes Mendis had a great series and caught India completely napping. But it is too early to compare him with the likes of Warne & Murali. His confidence is on a high and he is bwoling on tailor made pitches. Lets have this conversation after 1-2 years when he has had a chance to go to Australia and South Africa. How he handles the pressure after a couple of poor matches will tell us he is up with the greats. Lets see if Mendis is still in the team then!

Cricket has seen enough people who started like a hare only to fade into oblivion within the time it takes for a bubble to burst.

Posted by aryan_kb on (August 24, 2008, 9:47 GMT)

I suppose India-SL series was a delight to watch! Some great batsmen against some freaky spinners, it was a perfect exhibition of test cricket. T20 is the future, One dayers will still be around but undoubtedly test match is the ultimate form of competition. One wouldn't have seen such intriguing display of spin bowling in limited overs. One wants a bowler to make an impact, to make batsmen life uncomfortable. There is no joy watching cricket on featherbeds where bowlers are treated with disdain. With pitches being helpful and in the backdrop of referral system, it was interesting to watch bowlers posed more questions to batsmen.

Posted by kjerryk on (August 24, 2008, 6:40 GMT)

I am really impressed with Mendis and i don't think he is a freak. He is a spin bowler who has devised his own technique and combines it with accuracy to deadly affect. I think we have to be fair to the Fab 4 as they were up against a quality spinner and playing after a very long gap. This certainly dosn't absolve them of their failure, but i would not write them off. Personally, i think Sachin played him quite well, although never dominated him and that is a testimony to the talent that Mendis posseses. So how to tackle this guy?, Maybe Sehwag knows the answer, but only he can apply the solution that he will propose.

Posted by tripwire on (August 24, 2008, 5:44 GMT)

I think it's pretty unfair to jump to conclusions too bad series does not break legends..however due credit to Mendis who was fantastic and had the fortune to have the right people to guide him, who else would you want other than Murali to be bowling in tandem. It is also very unfair like Kumble said to include Laxman in this, for years he has had the extra burden to protect the tail and get the runs. Batsmen up the order have had more freedom, perhaps this made him more defensive in his approach. It would have been interesting to see how he would have played when the top order got runs or if he batted one down. Here he had to hang on and get as many runs as possible because there was hardly any and again protect the tail. It is more against his natural style of play. He cut down the risks and perished. Whereas roll back to Laxman vs Warne, he did not have to worry about that he could jump out of the crease without the fear of having to protect the tail or making a total.

Posted by aryan_kb on (August 24, 2008, 1:57 GMT)

I suppose more appropriate it would be if we say the current crop of Indian batsmen play traditional leg spinners well. Shane Warne, Stuart McGill, Mushtaq Ahmed were orthodox leg break bowlers and none of these bowlers bothered Indian batsmen.

However, off-spinners have generally troubled Indian batsmen. Even Sachin Tendulkar in his pomp in 1999, although handled Saqlain Mushtaq but did not dominate him in the manner as he dominated Shane Warne. Same goes for Muralitharan, Sachin has played some good innings against Muralitharan, but never really dominated him. Muralitharan has had some good bowling spells against India. In tests Mukul has already mentioned, but even in ODIs he once took 7 wickets on a Sharjah wicket. None of the contemparory spinners have the same record against India as Muralitharan's. With coming of Ajantha Mendis who is both off and leg spinner, it has taken them by complete surprise.

Posted by ronydutta86 on (August 23, 2008, 21:13 GMT)

Ganguly is a better player of spin than the other 3 put together n the way Ganguly plays his cricket is an inspiration to the nation...he is a flawed genius n thatswhy he is loved so much so layoff him

Posted by moni22 on (August 23, 2008, 20:47 GMT)

Good article Mr. Mukul. First of all i don't have any complains with the Fab4.Every1 on this site is criticizing Ganguly(even Peter Roebuck!) whereas i think he was not even dismissed once by Mendis!Same for Tendulkar too.Only once for him.Whats the fuss about anyway?Lets give full credit to Mendis for the way he bamboozled the Indian batsmen was truly spectacular.But it stops there.Lets not forget that v r in Sri Lanka n the pitches r made only for Muralitharan n now Mendis to bowl.The others are only making up the numbers.It was funny to see Jayawardene be so anxious to get both of them onto bowl as soon as some runs were being scored.Even Australia would not have managed to win a Test like we did in such a situation.And there is no way we can compare Mendis with Murali or even the gr8 Warnie just yet.We just have a tendency to blow things out of proportion these days.Lets see how he fares in India! OR Even once his mystery runs out.

Posted by boris6491 on (August 23, 2008, 16:57 GMT)

Mendis has certainly performed superbly against India particularly considering what excellent players of spin India possess. But it is much too early to say India have met their match in Mendis. He has certainly done them in twice, the Asia cup and the test series. It will be interesting to see how they counter him in the one dayers. He is a fantastic prospect and has a bright future providing he ensures he keeps working hard and learning a lot whilst he has the opportunity from Murali. If he can do that, I am sure he can perform consistently against all nations let alone India

Posted by Mina_Anand on (August 23, 2008, 16:39 GMT)

It's definitely not curtains for the 'Fab Four'. Nor is it time to write their epitaphs. Experts cite Glenn McGrath as a perfect example of retiring on a high. But does anyone stop to think that he did that in 2007, at the age of 37. The same McGrath was on trial for form and fitness, just before the 2006 Champions Trophy in India. Was in danger of being dropped from the World Cup Squad. But the Selectors did not give in to public perception and pressure. They did not 'dump' their stalwart cricketer. They backed him to come back. They wanted to honour him. And it turned out to be a fairytale finish. For heaven's sake, give our Four a chance to retire on their own terms. Great players deserve that. They are only 35 years young. Why do we love to write off champions, at the drop of an average ? Cricketers don't grill journalists, but they invariably make the critics, eat their words !

Posted by 8967 on (August 23, 2008, 14:32 GMT)

First of all I would like to say this is good article but some items he written I can not accept.Sidhu is a good batsman so as ganguly & laxman.I can not find any differance between those three players.At the same time nobody can write off Fab4.They all did something for Indian cricket.They all great players.When time comes Fab4 should retire on their on terms rather than dropping them.Futher we have to accept Mendis is a tallented bowler.When he performed well in Asia Cup Final every one said(Indian fans)this is without Fab4.Then what happen in Test series?..Now they talk about fab4's form in their batting.And some are talk about Aus (how to ball against them).True this is his 1st series and too early to comments.But surely he will do better in Future matches.Most of the fans never appreciate his ability.But one thing is sure if he is an Indian he is a God today.Perhaps every body will say 1200Test wkts,750ODI &500 20-20 wkts from him.Since he is from tiny Island this all differances.

Posted by ichliebecricket on (August 23, 2008, 13:20 GMT)

I agree generally with your article. I also think Dravid and Tendulkar are very valuable and should be part of the test team. But the thing which baffles me the most is, everybody is talking about the Fab Four not performing which is so untrue. Laxman averaged 43 in the series and was left at least twice alone with the tail So pls stop this rubbish about dropping Laxman. If at all anybody should go then im sorry to say this although im a huge fan of his, its Ganguly. Try Badrinath, he looks good against both spin and pace and has the ability to make big scores.

Posted by friendfromusa on (August 23, 2008, 12:33 GMT)

A good, analytical article. India should look into future and the time for it is now. The so called fab4 (or is it flab4 now!) should retire on their own calling, rather than wait for the door to be shown. All of them have done great service of the country, but that does not mean, they can keep playing, even if they have aged, reflexes slowed or legs are tired. Mendis is no doubt a very good bowler, but it is too early to put him into category of greats. He got benefit of review system, without which his tally would have been shorter. I like Sehwag's approach. Attack is the defense. When he gets going, all the great bowlers in the world look ordinary. If Zaheer and Ishant could score a 50+ partenership, then why can't our much celebrated fab4 do the same! It was a shameful batting display by them. They need to go. Period. Their days are numbered or already over.

Posted by afs_talyarkhan on (August 23, 2008, 10:57 GMT)

What we need is a phased changing of the guard. Ganguly has got to go. THE SAME WITH TENDULKAR. The same rules apply to everyone - if you go 6 consecutive test innings without a single fifty and and an average barely in double figures then you have to be dropped. If Ganguly and Tendulkar score mountains of runs at domestic level and their successors fail then fine - bring them back in. Somehow I doubt that is going to happen. Dravid showed signs of fighting it out and coming to terms with Mendis in the latter stages of the series and should be persevered with against the Aussies. Laxman is a couple of years younger and hasn't played one day cricket for a while - he should be fresher and have at least a couple more years within him. These things have to be looked at dispassionately - as the Australians did with Steve Waugh. What we don't want two years down the line is all four going at the same time - the cull has to start now.

Posted by Dazzlerz on (August 23, 2008, 10:34 GMT)

Very good article Mr.Mukul! It is so astonishing to see many people criticizing the Fab4 & not lauding the effort of Mendis. Common; he has done what many spinners couldn't do since decades. Having said that, i should also say that, at least two from the Fab4 should be sacked. Its high time the selectors take a strict stance & drop Sachin & Ganguly. Ganguly for for obvious reasons & what should i say about Sachin? We Indians are so obsessed by Cricket & worship our Cricketers so much so that, we don't see the faults in them. Cricket is not an individual sport but a team game. Sachin might be having so many records to his name, but you can count on your fingertips; how many times he took our team out of trouble or saved a test match! Just look at Lara, Gilcrist and also Graeme Smith. They keep their team first & their own personal interest later. Laxman & Dravid are classic test players. They should be given some chance but they should gracefully retire when they think their time is up.

Posted by Red_Bull on (August 23, 2008, 9:26 GMT)

How can you say Sidhu is 'second rank' when he averages 42, yet you rank Ganguly (41) and Laxman (43) alongside greats like Tendulkar and Dravid?

The whole 'fab 4' idea is media generated hype and rubbish, Ganguly and Laxman are just average batsmen hyped up coz they played so many games with the 2 modern greats. Sehwag is a better bat than those 2.

And as for those 2, Dravid has been having trouble against ALL bowling this year, not just Mendis, and Tendulkar was only dismissed by him once.

Posted by L4zybugg3r on (August 23, 2008, 9:03 GMT)

Totally agree that Ganguly needs to go. Dravid and Tendulkar are too valuable to be dropping just yet. I am yet to actually see Mendis bowl, but if he broke the record then I would assume that he's got a lot going for him. Mendis vs Clarke should be an interesting contest to look forward considering how Clarke played Murali recently in Aus.

Posted by Charindra on (August 23, 2008, 8:04 GMT)

Good article Mukul. It's too early to call Mendis great but it's fantastic that he's performing well because it takes the pressure off Murali, unlike in the past when he had to create all the pressure and take wickets as well. Now he can enjoy the luxury that Warne had throughout his career with the likes of Mcgrath and Brett Lee.

Posted by Sach_is_Life on (August 23, 2008, 7:07 GMT)

Did Mendis really trouble Sachin?Sachin scored 57 runs from 66 balls from Mendis and got out only in the last test.The only other player who did well was Sehwag who scored 77 runs from 84 balls which are almost similar to Sachin's figures.But I dont know why these so called critics or writers including sachin's name to others who really struggled against Mendis?yeah ..i know Sachin was a big failure in this Series but that doesn't mean that he was struggling..Infact it was Sachin who showed others how to play Mendis in the 1st test itself..

Posted by FaisalC on (August 23, 2008, 6:51 GMT)

"I had followed India's Test fortunes for 45 years, and never once in that time had I seen the Indian batsmen devastated by a slow bowler through a whole series."

Saqlain Mushtaq 1999? 24 wickets in 3 tests at an average of 20 including 4 5 wicket hauls

Posted by TwitterJitter on (August 23, 2008, 2:41 GMT)

I also think a combination of factors played in to create a perfect form. Both Dravid and Tendulkar have been out-of-form going into this series. Dravid has been low on confidence for the past one year and Tendulkar has been out of it ever since the end of Australian tour. Second, they were playing Mendis for the first time and that too in SL. He is a talented bowler. Then the review system played a significant role. They have been defending a particular way and that manners was set for a decade. Now, with the review system they were getting called for LBWs. This again creates more doubts in their mind with regards to footwork as it takes time to adjust. Towards the end of the series, Dravid was getting confident facing Mendis and Tendulkar was not that much troubled by him in the first place. They will adjust during this break. They would have watched slow motion replays of his action a 1000 times and would be itching to have one more go at him.

Posted by TwitterJitter on (August 23, 2008, 2:32 GMT)

I have a feeling that Dravid, Tendulkar, and Laxman would be itching to have one more crack at Mendis outside SriLanka. They would have probably rolled the video tape 1000 times to study him and they would probably be itching for a revenge.

Posted by sneharitha on (August 23, 2008, 2:06 GMT)

The world revolves always. before the arrival of dravid except sachin & azhar everybody failed at overseas against the fast bowlers. The same was the case with overseas players playing spinners at subcontinent. Indian batsmen developed their skills against fast bowlers and started winning in bouncy pitches also. Naturally their skill levels got reduced while playing spin as they concentrate less nowadays on this aspect.Same is the case with overseas players(Ponting struggling against Ishant at perth). At one end we want India to do well in overseas and at the other end we want them to attack spinners at sub continent.Its tough.The solution is to develop pitches that frequently produces bowlers like mcgrath, warne,vettori who are consistent in most varied conditions

Posted by Dabaru on (August 23, 2008, 1:03 GMT)

It is surprising to note all the anticipations around Mendis, but the fact that his carrom bowling is new, is what having the batsman fooled. He bowles regular off/leg spin, and is consistent on the line and length. An attacking batsman like Sewag, would have no problem with him. It will be interesting to note how Australian players handles him, as we know, down to 10th man, Australian batsmen play their own game, they do not let the bowler get on top of the batsmen, (sure they get out, but not out of hesitation )

In any case, Ye for Medis, I cant wait to see him play against, England, Australia, Newzeland, South Africa

Posted by 38911 on (August 23, 2008, 0:52 GMT)

The whole of the fab 4 cant be dropped but probably Ganguly should be droped because he is to inconsistent. Sachin was reading mendis quite well and Sachin is the greatest batsmen ever alongside don bradman and u can not drop the greatest batsmen. Laxman and dravid played good innings so they cant be dropped they r both great players. I think ganguly is the only one of the fab 4 to be dropped

Posted by elliemiller on (August 23, 2008, 0:26 GMT)

Thank you Mr.Kesavan for an excellent article.. Although, it is sad to see so many "cricket fans" not wanting to recognize Mendis's superb feat- Come on people, he broke a record that stood for 60 plus YEARS, and you still aren't prepared to give credit where it's due?..If he was as easy to figure out, how could the so called "fab-4" only score a mere 500 runs amongst them in 24 innings (4 batters x 6 innings)?.. Great news for SL- Finally the AWESOME Murali has wonderful support and the team can reap his benefits for a longer period of time.. Thank you for the opportunity to comment..

Posted by KNOWITALL on (August 22, 2008, 23:30 GMT)

How can you call Sidhu a B level batsman on par with Shastri? Sidhu averaged as much as Ganguly did and did that against a better set of bowlers. And he is possibly one of the best players of spin bowling ever.

Posted by JKSFB on (August 22, 2008, 22:23 GMT)

I think Mendis is a great talent. But I do not think that he will continue to have the same impact over quality batting teams. What we saw recently in SL was a combination of good bowling, pressure, the review system, less confident than usual batsmanship, and most of all, the fact that mendis is in his first year of cricket. It is premature to say that this is the end for the fab 3 (ganguly excepted). Look at what happened since the test series. Yuvraj needs a signboard to read mendis, so too Raina. Dhoni looks as if he is playing land mines not cricket balls, but atleast he gets the job done. And these are the cream of India's young batsmen. We should also not forget the Asia cup final which preceded the tests in SL.

Posted by Rishindra on (August 22, 2008, 22:23 GMT)

i think its too hasty to say , this is the end of the Fearsome Foursome...they have been there done that, its definately going to take more than some freak spiiner/medium pacer to ring in the curtains yet... But I will say this yet, if the review system was not in place which requires some fundamental changes on how you approach your batting, Mendis would have been handled suitably by Tendulkar alone...

Posted by VijayHanchatey on (August 22, 2008, 20:17 GMT)

A very good analysis by Mr Mukul. Even I had feared what Mukul has observed here. A player like Dravid doesnot get bamboozled very easily. Laxman also plays spin very well, but Dravid is a more thoughtful player and one doesnot have to say about his concentration levels. The look on Dravids face when he got out in the first innings of first test told everything.

I would like to see some more duels of Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar (the least) with Mendis. As I am sure this would be most interesting duel of and I am confident the trio will decipher this to-be-great bowler.

Posted by podizzle on (August 22, 2008, 19:31 GMT)

Very interesting article Mr.Kesavan, thank you. Although it seems a certainty that mendis is going to be something special, we need to see how he performs away from the spinning tracks in sri lanka at places where the pressure is on, say South Africa or Australia. He is , obviously, a serious threat but he needs to repeat his heroics in places that arent helpful for spinners (like kumble in Aus). As for the fab four, India are going to be in a transition period where, I think, we will become the weaker sides in world cricket whilst blooding the youngsters into the test side. but the real issue is that we need to have 4 batsmen who have the potential to replace the fab four, and i cant really see anyone, at the moment, who can replace them...

Posted by rowhitk on (August 22, 2008, 19:11 GMT)

Full credit to Mendis for the collapse he engineered in the Asia Cup final/Test series. But isn't it a bit too early to tag him a "star". Carribeans suffered the same fate against Hirwani. Where is Hirawani now?? I guess we should just wait and watch how things turn out for Mendis. If he is figured out - I would call it a beginners luck. Otherwise we are in for some fascinating contests for the next 10 years or so.

Posted by Vkarthik on (August 22, 2008, 17:16 GMT)

Mukul, while agreeing with your observation you have to take the review system into account where even if the ball is pitched less than half inside the line and ball hits the pad in line regardless of how much they stretch forward they are given out. If you are going to apply that rule to all the foregone series you would have seen lot of teams struggling against most spinners especially on slow and low SL pitches. His mystery factor was boosted by review system.

Posted by r1m2 on (August 22, 2008, 17:08 GMT)

I think Murali and Mendis represent two different styles of wicket-taking bowlers. One has mastered and perfected a single style of bowling, while Mendis has mastered accuracy while bowling many styles from same action. I don't think any one of Mendis' styles is too threatening enough at international level, but his ability to bowl the variety, from same action and with deadpan accuracy, makes him deadly. What many of the fab-4 fans or just non-Lankans in general may not realize is that even if the ball does not spin much, if it is spinning the way a batsman do not expect it to, they stand a chance to lose their wicket. I have always wondered what if a bowler could bowl a 6 different balls in an over, wouldn't that be deadly? Then I learned, it's pipe dream, since the bowling accuracy and consistency will have to be sacrificed in order to achieve that level variation. In Mendis what we need to appreciate more than the variety is his ability to be consistently accurate while bowling so.

Posted by bruciewalker on (August 22, 2008, 16:02 GMT)

Whilst it appears very likely that Ajantha Mendis will continue in a very successful vein, I think the author has jumped the gun a bit. 26 wickets in 3 tests is a phenomenal start but if that's the only criterion, do we call Andy Ganteaume (112 in his only test innnings) the most dominant batsman of all time?

One must also resepect Lance Gibbs' perfomrances against India: 63 wickets in 15 matches inlcuding 39 in 9 matches (at 23 runs each) in the subcontinent. And he battled some good bowlers at the same time for those wickets too: just looking at performances in India, we see that Wes Hall picked up 38 in 8 matches (21 runs each), Roy Gilchrist had 26 in 4 matches (16 runs each), Garry Sobers grabbed 24 scalps in 8 matches (27 runs each) and Charlie Griffiths chipped in with 9 wickets in 3 games.

Posted by govind_115 on (August 22, 2008, 16:01 GMT)

Yup i am totally agreed with the writter's view,if you take example of this recent test series played in srilanka against India then lots changes came out,and the main change that came out was weakness of fab four (sourav,sachin,dravid and laxman) against srilankan spin attack.the one person who impressed me most was Ajanta Mendis,he and Murli destoyed the Indian batting order.These four batsman's were known for best player against spin in world specially sourav and sachin,but in each and every inning the struggled for single run against this spin attack.Even harbhajan performed well along with Murli and mendis so in future batsmans must b prepared against these spin bowlers.

Posted by India_will_win on (August 22, 2008, 14:05 GMT)

Mr. Kesavan it would be too early to say if Mendis really bought the curtains down for the four great Indian Batsmen. Every player has a bad series and these four are no exceptions. Let Mendis play away from home and perform consistently in his first few series than only we can judge him. In your article you completely missed out mentioning Richie Benued who took 52 wickets against India in just 8 tests. Saqlain Mushtaq in his first two test against India took 20 wickets. It would be interesting to see how Indian batsmen performs against him on Indian pitches which are similar to the ones in Sri Lanka. Mendis true tests will be in Australia where even Murali averages more than 55 per wicket. But still it was a great debut and if Indian players can't play him well one would just imagine how players from England, South Africa and West Indies are going to handle him.

Posted by FORMULA11 on (August 22, 2008, 13:28 GMT)

For a change Mr.Bishan Bedi is right.

That though every contemporary and former Indian cricketer is pretending that he is not a threat,he has already made Indian batsmen looking foolish,in figures its nearing 40 wickets in no time.

So say whatever you wish to say,he is doing his job all right.

Posted by Gaming_Zone on (August 22, 2008, 10:52 GMT)

I think Mendis is a good bowler but if we see the history of Finger spinners in Asia then we Can say that finger bowlers are not too good in Asia Wrist spinners are the most successful in Asia like Abdul Qadir was one of the most greatest spinner but if mendis Succeeded then it is Good for srilanka .The way he is Bowling in India if he carry this bowling he can take any record he wants he can pass murli's record and other spin and bowling records. We will have an exciting series against Australia and in the champions trophy if New zealand,England and Australia Plays in the Champions trophy. I just Agree with Mukul Kesavan That he is better then Shane warne at the moment and he bowled the best bowl of the Bowled Batsmen's like Wall,Ws laxman,Little Master,Dada is just superb for a bowler who is in his debut series.BUT FUTURE WILL TELL THE TRUTH OF ALL

Posted by ShortMemory on (August 22, 2008, 10:45 GMT)

Mukul, I thought saqlain dominated indian batsman for a while. So, it was not just mendis. Let us give some more time and see on how successfull mendis is. And also, the type of bowling is also dependant on the ball that is being used.

Posted by ravikannan on (August 22, 2008, 10:32 GMT)

It is too early to comment on it. We all know what happened to Shoaib, Brett Lee who made a great impression when they started out. It is a matter of months before this spinner is torn apart by the batsmen. Its just that he is new and bowls variations frequently he is successful now. We have see him bowling to the Experienced Indian batting line up 5 years down the line to see if he really is a great spin bowler.

Posted by Theena on (August 22, 2008, 10:22 GMT)

Nothing to add to Mr Kesavan's article, but I'd like to address some of the comments if I may.

Jamrith: Michael Clarke got 6 for 9 on that viper of a pitch in Nagpur, yes? What little I saw of that game and read of the pitch after the match, it was quite apparent that that was a case of the pitch playing inconsistently as opposed to batsmen being foxed by Clarke's - for want of a better term - repertoire.

Riverlime: Being the Lara devotee that I am, I, too, would have loved to see Mr. Lara take on Mendis. The skill that Lara showcased during the Windies tour of SL in 2001, taking on Murali almost single-handedly, will forever be etched in my mind. It was a display of undiluted genius. The gulf that he created between himself and everyone else in that series whose profession was to wield a bat, was obscene.

Posted by Manush on (August 22, 2008, 10:15 GMT)

By the time Mendis plays against the Australins, English,South Africans and Newzalanders, one can resonably expect him to finish with 200 wickets at the current way he has started. well done and what a sensational start!!

Posted by StJohn on (August 22, 2008, 9:08 GMT)

I used to fear for the Sri Lankan team's fortunes in the years after Murali's retirement. Not now. Murali carried the SL team for so many years & without him, whilst their batting would generally always hold its own, I couldn't really see SL consistently taking 20 wkts in Tests. But who would've thought it? Just as Murali nears retirement (although hopefully he will still play for a few more years), another unique & equally freakishly talented spinner emerges in Mendis. We'll have to see how he performs over a longer run: one amazing home series, even against a talented and generally spin-competent Indian batting side, is not enough evidence. But the future looks bright for SL & I too look fwd to seeing Mendis and Murali, the best current spin attack in the world, take on Australia, home or away. And I agree: Mendis & Murali v England next summer would not be the confidence boost England needs ahead of the Ashes. If Malinga, Fernando & Vaas are also fit & in-form, SL could be the world No.1.

Posted by manikolbe on (August 22, 2008, 9:06 GMT)

Well said Mukul. You have pointed out the declining trend of Fab Four and the emergence of Mendis in an unbiased way. No doubt Mendis is going to stay. I can't wait till the Champions Trophy to see how worlds greatest batsmen handle Mendis.

Posted by jimbond on (August 22, 2008, 9:06 GMT)

Mendis is bound to be successful, but good batsmen will learn to play him. It's not just the videos of the bowling action- but also the batsmen. Having seen Sehwag, Gambhir, Dhoni (and also Dravid and Tendulkar in a few occasions) play him reasonably well- will give people like Hayden and Pietersen an idea of how to tacle Mendis. Of course Mendis can continue to come up with new variations to retain his mystery, but this is easier said than done.

Posted by vswami on (August 22, 2008, 8:31 GMT)

I really do think a younger Tendulkar or Dravid would have countered him. Tendulkar has stopped taking on bowlers on his own terms in the past and he would have definitely attacked Mendis in his youth. Mendis is definitely a very good bowler and what sets him apart is his incredible accuracy, a la Kumble. He is a superior version of Kumble in that his spinning deliveries rip across the batsmen at at Kumble's speed and his accuracy, which is a deadly combination. What has been also been fascinating to watch is that Murali has suddenly looked easier to face from the other end.

Posted by riverlime on (August 22, 2008, 8:07 GMT)

It's a pity Mendis didn't get to bowl to the greatest player of spin in the modern era, viz. Lara. Conspiracy theorists might suggest Sri Lanka only played him after Lara announced an early retirement. Would Lara have been able to treat Mendis the way he did Murali?

Posted by jamrith on (August 22, 2008, 6:43 GMT)

Mukul,in truth, India's recent record against spin has been inconsistent to say the least; Michael Clarke taking 6 for 9 in Mumbai 4 years ago, Afridi, Arshad Khan and Kaneria ripping through the Indian batting in Bangalore in 2005, and the archetypal county trundler, Shaun Udal, reducing us to defeat, again in Mumbai, a couple of years ago. So, once a class act like Mendis came along, our frailties were completely exposed. What is remarkable about Mendis is that not only does he instil doubt and fear amongst the top order batsmen, he just rips through the tail. Given even one more over, he may have got the last 3 wickets in Dambulla. I dread to think of what he will do in Colombo where his batters will give him a much better cushion to play with.

Posted by ldineshf on (August 22, 2008, 6:41 GMT)

Well said Mukhul., as a die hard SL supporter this is a gem of a story and Mendis have given the Indian dressing room enough thoughts to make sure the days of Fab-4 is numbered and numbers are too small.

When the so called Fab-4 was gone like pack of cards., the Indian media which is more biased than anything., wanted to have a go with so called young ones with golden feet against Mendis and the way he is treating guys like Yuvraj, this boy wonder Mendis is a special talent and nothing but we have to admire him.

I beg you Indian supporters here just to admire this talent and not come for silly assumptions that we will docode in n number of days or in n number of series etc..,

Most of the Indian supporters here have a sort of some inferior complexity in downgrading a small town boy from a small country as evident by elsewhere and this is just a fair reminder for you blokes - give credit when it is due.........

Posted by gzawilliam on (August 22, 2008, 6:32 GMT)

This kid will become an all-time great when he retires bar injury or a test involving darrel hair.

It's very refreshing to see another star spinner on the international circuit. He's a happy , tough , smart cricketer at a young age. Good to see that spin bowling isn't dying with the retirement of warne and the near end of murali.

Murali must be so proud of mendis. And who better to leanr off for a young extremely talented spin bowler.

Good luck Ajantha.. Keep fit!!

Posted by Chestnutgrey on (August 22, 2008, 6:31 GMT)

Mendis' true test will come when he bowls to Mathew Hayden, Andrew Symonds, Michael Clarke or Kevin Pietersen. In recent years, the Indian stars have not been very adept at playing spin, apart from that served by Warne. Murli has troubled us quite badly in recent years. Tendulkar goes into defensive mode against bowlers like Ashely Giles, Monty Panesar and Paul Harris. Is it because these stars don' play domestic cricket often enough to be playing spinners? Compare this to people like Gambhir and Badrinath, who by playing more doemstic matches are able to play spin better?

Posted by potter69 on (August 22, 2008, 6:29 GMT)

Mukul, You have Spoken in a truly unbiased Way, Yes Mendis is here to stay, and whats more, he may not have a sachin or dravid in their prime to contend with , something that warne and murali did, so my guess is , he is going to take more wickets quickly, cause if indians couldnt read him and sort him, god save the english and the south africans, I'm Waiting to see Mendis against Australia, But alas they dont have the Waugh twins and martyn who were arguably the best players of spin, hopefully hayden does, also i was fascinated to think how one mr. brian charles lara wouldve tacled mendis, and my guess is .. both sachin and Lara in their prime would've surely thought him a lesson or two.. yes he would've got them out, but at a higher cost, also your articles makes us realise a harsh reality, who's next ?.. do we have players to play quality spin. Dhoni is not a great player of Spin. Yuvraj is ceratanily not, Does the Fab Four have people to succed their throne,

Posted by BalkrishnaSapre on (August 22, 2008, 5:41 GMT)

Agree, Mendis has started the end of Fab four. Though they may not be thrown away right away, but their confidence is rock-bottom. Mendis need to be treated Sehwag way. Nobody apart from Sehwag tried to attack him, and he grew in confidence. Dhoni has shown some good technique against mendis. He plays as late as possible. If india has suffered so much by his spin.. Let god only save other teams from him. Interesting battle will be Mendis In Australia..

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Mukul KesavanClose
Mukul Kesavan teaches social history for a living and writes fiction when he can - he is the author of a novel, Looking Through Glass. He's keen on the game but in a non-playing way. With a top score of 14 in neighbourhood cricket and a lively distaste for fast bowling, his credentials for writing about the game are founded on a spectatorial axiom: distance brings perspective. Kesavan's book of cricket - Men in Whitewas published in 2007.
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