Pakistan focus on Mendis
Pakistan's batsmen have been practising on shorter pitches to try and counter the threat of Ajantha Mendis in the three-match ODI series against Sri Lanka, which begins on Tuesday at the National Stadium in Karachi.
Mendis, the quickest bowler to 50 ODI wickets, has been a dominant theme in Pakistan's thinking ahead of the short series. Pakistan have come across Mendis twice, once in the Asia Cup and then in the final of the four-nation Twenty 20 in Canada. Seven wickets in 14 overs in the two games means Pakistan aren't wrong to focus heavily on him.
One man who has succeeded against him is Misbah-ul-Haq, who made 76 in a losing cause during the Asia Cup and an unbeaten 23 in the Twenty20 final. The Pakistan vice-captain took 27 runs off 24 Mendis deliveries in Karachi last year, including two sixes and a four, before he was bowled slogging. He believes a similarly aggressive approach might help dent his effectiveness.
"We saw him in the Asia Cup and even though he took four wickets, he went for a few runs ," said Misbah. "We will definitely try to attack and unnerve him. It's in the mind. If you allow a bowler to dominate you, he will and if you don't, he won't."
A number of Pakistan's batsmen have spoken of the pace which Mendis bowls at as being the key to his success. So reading him off the pitch or from the hand, goes the thinking, is important, but not as much as adjusting to his pace, which allows you little time to adjust. As Imran Khan famously did before a series against the West Indies in 1987-88, batsmen have practiced on shorter surfaces, to counter an altogether different threat.
"We are practicing a lot for Mendis," said Misbah. "We're playing bowlers from shorter distances so we can counter the fast pace. There is no reason why we cannot handle him because all Pakistan players are good against spin."
Intent is one thing, execution another altogether and as his captain Mahela Jayawardene pointed out, Mendis is a man who doesn't fret about pressure. "He hasn't had added pressure and has gone through all the batting line-ups he has come across. He is enjoying his challenges and pressure does not affect him as he is a very simple guy. He doesn't have to go through such interviews because his knowledge of English is not that great so he rests in his room watching movies."
Having one of the game's greatest spinners at the other end is no bad thing either. "He knows what his role is and there are some really good guys around him giving him advice especially Murali who is a brilliant role model. He has worked very hard for 18 years, gone through so many issues and come through very well. As long as Ajantha realises that and goes along the same path as Murali, I'm sure we'll have a big match-winner for us in the next ten years."