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

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