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March 6, 2008
For the second week in a row Army came from behind to snatch victory after conceding a first-innings lead and maintained their position atop the Premier Tier B standings.
With the Tier A clubs enjoying a free weekend, the focus was on Tier B and whether Panadura, the nearest challenger to Army's position, would be able to close the gap. By the end of the second day it looked likely that they would do so with Army struggling against Air Force. But Army were able to come back strongly and overcome a first-innings deficit and win, Panadura were denied victory by Police, who managed a draw at the Police Park Ground in Colombo.
Panadura were in a strong position, having reduced Police to 104 for 9 in reply to their first-innings total of 272. A follow-on looked inevitable for Police but they managed to avoid it with a last-wicket stand of 36 which meant that Panadura had to bat again. In the process, they lost precious time while setting Police a target of 335 to chase in the fourth innings. When play ended on the final day, Police were 215 for 7.
Army's match-winner was once again right-arm spinner Ajantha Mendis, who helped dismiss Air Force out for 92 in the second innings, leaving Army only 146 to chase. The victory was Army's sixth of the season and they maintained their unbeaten streak.
Third-placed Saracens also lost ground when they conceded a narrow first-innings lead of 13 runs to Singha in a drawn match Nondescripts Cricket Club.
Sebastianites were the only other club apart from Army to record a win Burgher Recreation Club Ground, beating Burgher by 170 runs, their first victory of the season in six matches.
Player of the Week: Ajantha Mendis
Ajantha Mendis isn't playing in one of Colombo's most influential club sides and his team isn't competing in the elite Tier A but the less glamorous Tier B of the Premier League. However, Mendis' spin bowling is one of the main reasons why Army are on top of Tier B and could be promoted to Tier A next season if they keep up their current form and emerge champions.
Although classified as a right-arm, slow-medium bowler, Mendis is a spinner who bowls a mixture of googlies, offbreaks, top-spinners, flippers and legbreaks. Batsmen have been confounded by the variety of deliveries he has up his sleeve and are at a loss to figure out what his stock delivery is.
"I had only two variations when I started to play for the Army but within a period of one year I have managed to increase it to four. Now I can bowl in six different ways," said Mendis, who bowls with an unorthodox action.
Mendis is the season's top wicket-taker with 46 wickets at an average of 10.56 and strike-rate of 31 from six matches with five five-fors and one ten-wicket haul.
Sri Lanka's spin-bowling coach Ruwan Kalpage predicted a bright future for him and said that Mendis should be nurtured carefully because he was going to be Sri Lanka's next Muttiah Muralitharan
"The most impressive aspect of Mendis' bowling is that he maintains a consistent line and length while still bowling five different deliveries in an over. To be a good bowler at international level you need to have a lot of variations and Mendis has them," said Kalpage, a former Sri Lanka off-spinner.
"Mendis came under the watchful eyes of Mahela Jayawardene, when he played in the provincial one-day tournament, and the captain was quite impressed with his bowling," he said. Mendis turns 23 on March 11. He has a whole new world waiting for him, if he can be guided on the right path.
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