Sri Lanka v New Zealand, 4th ODI, Hambantota November 10, 2012

Middling ability, maximum impact

Nuwan Kulasekara and Jeevan Mendis may not be among cricket's biggest talents, but they deliver by being among the biggest triers

Just as history is often told by the victors, whom it remembers better, the history of cricket is dominated by the outrageously talented. A handful of champions are immortalised, while a plethora of middling others fade quickly from the memory. It is an understandable, natural human phenomenon - for why retain the unmemorable? For the likes of Nuwan Kulasekara and Jeevan Mendis, perhaps this is an unfair practice.

Neither man can be said to possess any great ability, by international standards. No opposition will be daunted by Kulasekara's medium-pace, or Mendis' legspin. They may be discussed briefly in team meetings, sometimes as weak links, but much more time will be allocated to analysing Lasith Malinga, or learning the weaknesses of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. But though they lack in prowess, the game is richer for their effort, which never dips or fades, and for that reason, they deserve better than a footnote in cricket's chronicles.

Perhaps the only moments in time in which Kulasekara is intimidating are the split seconds in which the ball leaves his hand and travels the length of the pitch. Over the years he has improved his inswinger by increments, to the extent that he now commands one of the finest inswing deliveries in the world. The curve in the air is more pronounced than it used to be and tends to come later, and the jag off the seam more dramatic. Twice in his opening over - a maiden, Kulasekara hit the batsman on the pads, and he continued to do so throughout the innings. In his first spell, that movement into the right-hander undid Rob Nicol, who mis-hit an aerial stroke that ended up in the hands of mid-on. At the death, that same swing removed James Franklin, who missed the ball and was caught plumb.

The comparisons with Chaminda Vaas come easily. Vaas may have been more skilful, but Kulasekara has a similar height and build and relies on movement to take wickets, operating at around 130 kph. And like Vaas, Kulasekara has strengthened his game by adding new deliveries. He now moves the ball away from the right-hander off the seam and can do so having brought it into the batsman in the air - something that New Zealand's top-order had particular trouble countering on a juicy pitch. It is a development that has helped him return to the Test side after 19 months out of it. In the last Test series against Pakistan, he was Sri Lanka's most successful seam bowler, and that performance has earned him a place in the squad for the upcoming Tests against New Zealand. Meanwhile in ODIs, he has not gone wicket-less since March.

"He's a steady performer for us and against Pakistan Nuwan bowled really well," Mahela Jayawardene said after his side won the ODI leg of the tour. "He's a bowler a captain would love to have in a one-day side and in Tests, purely because he is so consistent. He can contain, he doesn't give away too many runs and he builds pressure by bowling good areas. Having him in the Test side gives me a very good option."

Mendis is also as unassuming as his cricket. If he was playing a domestic match, there might not be much to suggest he was fit for internationals. Since he has arrived at the top level though, he has found ways to contribute in all three disciplines through sheer tenacity, and is now on his way to making himself a permanent fixture in Sri Lanka's lower middle-order. Against New Zealand, Mendis came on late in the innings and gunned down the lower middle-order, fooling the opposition's best player of spin with a googly in the process. On a pitch that favoured the quicker bowlers, Jayawardene may not have been expecting a fistful of wickets from his second-choice spinner, yet in five deliveries, Mendis effectively secured Sri Lanka the game.

"I normally use my googly a lot," Mendis said after the match. "As a legspinner, when you play with international players, you've got to have a lot of variations. So I used my variations and bowled my normal balls. I try to do well for the team in every aspect of the game and hope to make the best of every opportunity that I'm given."

There was a moment in the 12th over of the match that summed up both cricketers. Brendon McCullum worked one off his legs into a vacant midwicket and he set off for two, thinking he had struck it softly enough for the man coming in off the rope to have plenty to do. What McCullum hadn't counted on was Kulasekara tearing after the ball from mid-on. Mendis had spotted the run-out chance before either of the batsmen or the bowler, and quickly moved behind stumps to collect Kulasekara's throw and catch BJ Watling well short of his crease. It wasn't miraculous cricket from either man, they were simply doing everything in their power to earn their side an advantage. But in playing the game the only way they knew how, they dismissed New Zealand's form batsman.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • palitha on November 12, 2012, 9:30 GMT

    It was high time someone took the role of writing about our unsung cricketing heroes. Andrew you have started. I hope you keep writing about current as well as ex players too. There are many players whose contribution have soon forgotten or overwhelmed by other popular stars. Well written article. Thank You.

  • Miles on November 12, 2012, 0:35 GMT

    Ramesh Dharshana Perera- As you say Thrimanne has the potential & should be given a fair go as I always believe in bringing youngsters to the side rather than older club batsmen as debutantes since our club cricket is weak.However I think Maheal and the selectors have sacrificed gutsy & talented young Dinesh too much to give Thiri enough chances for the last 6 months and up to today, Thiri has not made an impact yet as Dinesh did.Maybe Thiri is talented,we are still waiting to see his capability at the international arena even after 12 months now. I think the difference between these two youngsters at the international scene is that Dinesh is a gutsy/mature character than Thiri.I hope Thiri will change and start delivering the real goods or otherwise it will be unfair for other talented youngsters who are waiting to get into the national side. Selectors also should gamble a few youngsters at a time rather than 1 or 2 youngsters, so that they can keep the best characters out of them.

  • Kay on November 11, 2012, 15:41 GMT

    there's no denying that kulasekara is a trier and a decent bloke. but every time i think of his value to the team all i can think of are his dropped catch off gambhir in the 2011 world cup final and his dropped catch off samuels in the recent T20 world cup final neither of which was difficult had he been paying attention. and as history would show those two missed chances were defining moments. sometimes what distinguishes a player of great value to the team from an average bloke is right there in those small yet defining moments.

  • Dru on November 11, 2012, 14:54 GMT

    Good read and very true - there are lots of players that will not feature in opposition team meetings that are more than handy and can impact on the game. Kula and Mendis are perfect examples of it and I am sure most team go in with the idea of Kula being the weak link.

  • Prbath on November 11, 2012, 12:54 GMT

    @ Ramesh Dharshana Perera, Brother Are you Sure Thirimanna is the best young batsmen in sri lanka? did you check his test and ODI records?

  • Dummy4 on November 11, 2012, 10:55 GMT

    miles100- Chandi and Thirimanne both should play.Thirimanne is the best young batsman Sri Lanka has

  • Lalith on November 11, 2012, 10:06 GMT

    SL will be a very strong ODI side or the best. They will get back to No 1 in ODI. The reason is That they have 4 allrounders in Angelo, Kula, Mendis and Perera. As Andrew mentioned opposition would not hink abourt Kula or Mendis but they always bring match winning performances. Lalith - Sydney

  • Miles on November 11, 2012, 9:19 GMT

    Like Andrew says, Kula is a much improved bowler and we will have the most experienced fast bowling line up for the world cup in AU (2015). Not sure why they kept playing Thirimane all these time by leaving Dinesh out of the scene. Dinesh is a match winner and has 2 respected centuries to his name while Thiri has not proven enough as a match winner yet after many opportunities given to him. Dinesh had to always work hard/utilise narrow opportunities given to him to get into the side. If Dinesh makes a little mistake, they will drop him(NOT FAIR FOR THE YOUNGSTER). However Dinesh must look at improving further as he is ideally a good number 4 batsman as a youngster at present and later with experience, he will be an ideal No:3 batsman after Sanga retires. No 3, 5 & 6 batting positions should always good for an experienced campaigners as these are the positions that Sanga, Mahela & Mathews should continue to bat at if they want a strong middle order.

  • Amila on November 11, 2012, 7:40 GMT

    an excellent write-up Andrew, not only that they both are more than handy with the Bat now days

  • Dummy4 on November 11, 2012, 7:12 GMT

    SRi Lanka need to rest big guns (Sanga,Mahela,malinga,Hearath) for the next match to give a chance to youngsters..My team for the next match...1.Chandi (Keeper) 2.Tharanga 3.Thiri 4.Kapu 5Angi 6.Jeewan 7.Perera 8 Kule 9Eranga 10 Kaushal 11 Dhanajaya......

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