Sri Lanka v India, 1st ODI, Dambulla August 18, 2008

Mendis remains a mystery


Mahendra Singh Dhoni said after the Asia Cup that Ajantha Mendis couldn't be read. Nothing's changed since then © AFP

The crisp, cream clothing made way for dazzling blue, but the script read much the same. Watching India clearly weighed down by the finger freak waiting in the wings, unsure about how to tackle tidy medium-pace, anxious about what could be unleashed at any moment, it was hard not to get a sense of déjà vu. The Test specialists were gone, but the one-day recruits suffered a similar fate.

India's latest defeat against Sri Lanka wasn't all about Ajantha Mendis, though at the rate he is picking up awards and cheques, he's certain to be a richer man and teach Arun Lal, the post-match emcee all tour, a fair amount of Sinhalese. Mendis played a key role, but India were severely dented after Sri Lanka's new-ball duo nipped out three early wickets.

That pair took much of the pressure off Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan. Chaminda Vaas breached Gautam Gambhir's defence with the second ball of the match and Nuwan Kulasekera bowled very well, complementing his partner, to take two wickets. After five overs India were 9 for 1; after ten 29 for 2; after 15, 42 for 3; after the Powerplays they were reeling at 73 for 4. Therein lies the command that Sri Lanka took over the opposition. Vaas and Kulasekera choked the top order and Thilan Thushara, bowling tidy left-arm seam, maintained the pressure. It was a clinical example of attacking through partnerships.

More importantly, it was the perfect setting for Mendis to come in for the last over of the Powerplays. India were unsettled by their early losses and apprehensive about Mendis' arrival. They were unsure about how to handle the situation, and it proved detrimental.

When Mendis did arrive, India's batsmen looked no closer to deciphering him. His first strike hurt so deep that India failed to recover. Yuvraj Singh was beaten first ball by a slider, survived an extremely tight lbw shout, tried to dictate terms with a six over long-on, and was then utterly befuddled by a quicker one that skidded on. Too far forward, Yuvraj was left looking silly. India's most experienced player had fallen for the dangling carrot, and the reverberations were loud.

Thereon it was much the same as in the Tests. Mendis left the rest to fumble about in the dark. Mahendra Singh Dhoni fidgeted and fussed about his crease, playing and missing until he was put out of his misery by an outside-edge that flew to slip. Runs dried up. The heat turned up. After the Asia Cup, Dhoni said Mendis just couldn't be read at all; nothing has changed.

India's players have bounced between analysing footage, hoping that his aura may wear off and stressing on reading him off the pitch. What they need to understand is that for the time being Mendis is beyond understanding. Hard as it may sound, they need to take him out of the equation, stop worrying about him

Again bowling accurately and lethally, Mendis finished with 3 for 21 off nine overs, helping reduce India to 87 for 7 after which he was taken out of the attack. All Murali had to do was twirl his wrist and gobble up the lower order, even if his last over went for 14. The problem with India's approach against Mendis was that everyone wanted to build, nobody wanted to do maintenance.

"Creativity is not like a freight train going down the tracks," wrote Bob Dylan in his autobiography, Chronicles. "It's something that has to be caressed and treated with a great deal of respect. If your mind is intellectually in the way, it will stop you. You've got to programme your brain not to think too much."

Flip that around and you understand India's predicament against Mendis. They've been bamboozled, nay awed, by Mendis' bag of tricks since he destroyed them in Karachi. Mendis is special, no doubt about it. India's players have bounced between analysing footage, hoping that his aura may wear off and stressing on reading him off the pitch. What they need to understand is that for the time being Mendis is beyond understanding. Hard as it may sound, they need to take him out of the equation, stop worrying about him.

Virender Sehwag didn't think too much about Mendis in Galle and finished the match with 251 runs. There's a possibility he may be out of the whole series, and that's a massive worry, for in a sense India lost this match before Dhoni went out for the toss. They lost this match some time during training yesterday when Sehwag injured himself. Sehwag was India's highest scorer in the Test series, handling Mendis with aplomb during his double hundred in Galle, and their best bet at providing a solid start.

Dhoni spoke of the added responsibility on Sehwag to pass on advice to India's one-day recruits. In terms of his experience against Sri Lanka's spinners and his ability to provide starts, an integral asset in cricket, Sehwag's loss was brutal. In his last ODI he hammered an exhilarating 60 from just 35 balls, helping India storm to 76 from just nine overs.

Without their best player, India's indecision crept in from the onset. The openers may have thought attacking Sri Lanka's medium-pacers was the best option given their inefficiency in the Tests. That didn't work, and they had no answer to Mendis.

Even if they do a half-baked job of something, India's batsmen will find themselves one-eyed men in the kingdom of the blind. But at the moment they remain indecisive about picking one approach; it's a toss-up between throwing in the towel or trying to force the pace against spin. India need to find a way to rotate singles, as well as score runs.

"Its important to learn," said Dhoni, "because everyone makes mistakes. Unless you learn from those your own, your team's graph won't go up."

There's only a day's gap for the second match. India's time starts now.

Jamie Alter is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Tariq on August 19, 2008, 7:30 GMT

    Dhoni pulled out of test series where he could have participated. And we all saw the level of keeping, and ofcourse Dhoni would have made the difference. Now Sehwag is out due to injury, Dhoni's best bet against SriLanka. Let Dhoni feel the same what Kumble must have felt because of Dhoni's pullout, its circle of life.

  • Rajaranganathan on August 19, 2008, 7:25 GMT

    I think Chandrapaul will be the best batsman to tackle Mendis. Unorthodox Batsman will be more successful against Mendis whem compared to Orthodox Text Book players. Atleast, when facing Mendis, the batsman need to play unorthodox way. Taking strides, Open stance, Offstump Guard will help the Batsman play Mendis better. And I think once the batsman play Mendis regulary in 20-20 competitions, they will get to know better on how to play Mendis. One batsman will definitely show the way to the other and from then on let us see...after all this is only the first season for Mendis.

  • Pawan on August 19, 2008, 6:46 GMT

    Yeah, I agree Mendis just has to be forgotten about to have any chance of winning the match. Or you could play him like Sehwag did and try to smash Mendis, but then again I doubt even the famed Australians would be able to take care of Mendis. Where is Rajasthan Royal's unorthodox batsman Asnodkar? He batted alot like Sehwag. Carefree and aggressive. We want the old Yuvi to do what he did best like in the warm-up SL XI match. And if you look at India's batting form at other teams then India re in good form. Like against SL XI and in the Asia Cup. They made batting look so easy and when the Mendis factor is introduced, batsmen collapse, teams are destroyed. Sehwag's 251 led India to their only test victory in the series and they need a new leader like him here. The whole team stood up against the other teams but against Mendis they need a leader. More proof that India are great against any team without Mendis:CB Series saw the fall of Sri Lankan cricket but Mendis came to the rescue.

  • Krishna on August 19, 2008, 6:41 GMT

    The Indian batsman failed again to show their consistancy. If the opening partnership didn't do well, all the others follow. I do not think that the pitch has played a vital roll. Especially when Sri Lanka could score pretty well.

    Apart from that, Sri Lanka has really done well. Especially, Mendis who knows the weekness of the indian batsman and used it effectively. My congratulations to Jayawardane, who has used efficiently his bowlers to shatter the dreams of India.

  • shenbaga on August 19, 2008, 6:30 GMT

    It is test of character for Dhoni! Jayawardene sees ODIs as opportunity to conquer India in total after the drubbing he gave them in tests. But, even scrape-through and lucky wins like wins in T20 world cup and CB series finals seem remote here.

    Luckily, the Indians have room for improvement. Dhoni needs to field best bowlers and best combination to be competitive in LG cup. He needs to field 4 seamers unless he has a spinner who can bowl economical overs in powerplays day-in and day-out. And if two spinners are fielded, best seamers should play; irfan pathan at best can be a fourth seamer only. The equation is simple; restrict lankans to manageable total and hope that Indians salvage their pride.

    Indians would miss the X-factor of shewag who is out of this series due to injury. Another X-factor, Yusuf Pathan, was unfortunately dropped for LG cup and Champions trophy. Yusuf was the chief Indian contender for Most Valuable Player in last IPL league and look what they did to him.

  • Martin on August 19, 2008, 6:18 GMT

    It would be interesting to see how Medis would handle less responsive pitches outside the sub-continent, if does well in places like Australia I'd rate him a better bowler than Murali, simply because Murali (while being a great bowler) doesn't have a great record off the responsive sub-continent pitches

  • Bharat on August 19, 2008, 5:32 GMT

    Until & unless Indian batsmen try to find a way out to play the bowling of Mendis they are going to struggle. Because of Mendis factor India is always trying to place safe then they end up giving wickets to him. He is a bowler whose trajectory is always in line with the stumps hence it would be worth trying to sweep him instead of just prodding on the front foot and then being caught in slips or being given LBW. Horizontal bat shot must be tried out. Had Australia been playing against him they would have certainly played sweep shots like what they did to Harbhajan in 2001 series.

  • Nafees on August 19, 2008, 5:24 GMT

    A game has win, lose or tie. The teams should accept this. A team could underperform in a particular series and do better later. We should not expect a particular team to win all the matches always as I see among Indian fans. When the Indians team winds, all the praise goes and when they lose, there comes the complete disappointment. Accept what happened and try for the next.

  • Samitha on August 19, 2008, 5:20 GMT

    All talk about Ajantha Mendis.. He is a wonderfull bowler absolutly no doubt about that but troth to be told India is making things easy for him. Ultimately the victory is but a team effort. i am sure the indians are in a dialma over Mendis factor weather play or defend it is, i think the reason why they lost their first three wickets early before Mendis No doubt about the talent of Mendis, it is just amazing.yet the indians themselves have crated a kind of Paranoia about Mendis thinking he is unpalyable. if they think so no point of having the rest of the serious. hoping to have good perfomance from the Indians

  • Himanshu on August 19, 2008, 4:51 GMT

    Thats the best solution to face Mendis.Just dont think too much about it. Look Gambhir the way he got out it looks that he was in a different world thinking about some thing else.Same with Yuvi and Dhoni. THey are too concious to play Mendis. No doubt he is a great bowler. ANd it is a great feeling to see such a unique bowler after so many decades in the crop of off spinners, leg breaks . And in this they forget that SL has too good bowlers like Vaas and Murli.. who can still devastate any team. So Mantra should be free your mind with all hype and play straigt as much as possible with bat.

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