Pakistan prepare for Mendis
Already the name is on everyone's lips and in everyone's minds. It is inevitable as the freak-bowler show that is Ajantha Mendis tours countries of the cricket world. Already he is a dream for headline writers and reporters; Mission Mendis, Solving the Mendis Mystery; how do you tackle him? how good is he? Do you read him from the hand or off the pitch? How many videos of him have you seen?
Ninety percent of the questions Pakistan's coach Intikhab Alam was asked were on Mendis, as a short preparation camp got underway at Karachi's National Stadium a day before Sri Lanka's arrival for a three-match ODI series. The other pretty handy spinner they have, a bloke by the name of Murali, didn't even get a look in.
Such has been Mendis's impact that he has to loom large over every encounter. Pakistan, said Intikhab time and again, have analysed him; they have a strategy, but that was between him and the team.
"We have plans for each individual, for each player. We have collected information and all of them and have a plan in place. But that is not for public consumption," said Intikhab, a mischievous grin in tow.
"I can't tell you the details but we are looking at everything. If Mendis was hit around by a player we check who the batsman was and how he went about it. He is a very natural talent and not conventional at all. He has the offie, a leggie, a flipper. Some say play him from the hand, some say off the pitch. But the thing is he's quick, so whatever we do, we have to decide properly. We will definately be positive and attack him."
Pakistan themselves will fall back on their traditional strength, of pace. Word was last week that pitches would be made quick and bouncy, to aid one of six fast men picked in their squad for the first of three ODIs at Karachi. Neither here nor there is the fact that such pitches are seen around these parts as often as Halley's comet and that one of the groundsmen said the nature of the surface had not yet been inked in. In any case, Intikhab was in coy form, unwilling to - despite the sextet of fast men - reveal fully what Pakistan's plans were.
"It is quite possible [that we will be relying on pace]. Sometimes what you show is an illusion of what will actually happen," Intikhab said, a verbal wink. "In Karachi, with the 12pm start, the early moisture will not be so much of a factor anyway." Only one specialist spinner in the squad - Saeed Ajmal - suggests what Sri Lanka see is what Sri Lanka will get, no matter the coach's red herrings.
Of the six, Shoaib Akhtar's form and fitness, as always, came in for questioning. For the record, he looked fit, he has been bowling in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy four-day games and had a bowl at practice too. There are, Intikhab reminded everyone, other pacers out there as well. "Shoaib is fit and he has been playing domestic cricket as well. But you also have to look at the guys who did well in the Abu Dhabi series against West Indies. We believe in results - players who do well will always be in the team."
Mendis aside, Pakistan will be pleased with the trouble with which Sri Lanka eventually claimed the tri-nation series in Bangladesh, one they were expected to walk away with comfortably. "We have watched Sri Lanka in Bangladesh closely and there were grey areas there that we observed," Intikhab said. "They are one of the best sides in the world but if we play like we did in Abu Dhabi, I believe we have a good chance of winning the series."
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo