England v Sri Lanka, World T20, Group 1, Chittagong March 27, 2014

Mendis - bird of prey or sitting duck?

Batsmen have often struggled to figure out Ajantha Mendis' bowling, but now it is time for Sri Lanka to figure out whether the spinner should be persisted with
  shares 31

Meet Ajantha Mendis, the wizard. He puts rabbits in his hat and yanks out dismissals. Carrom balls peg off stumps back. Two-finger googlies sneak between bat and pad. Legbreaks that take the outside edge, and offies trap batsmen off the crease. You can't come forward to him, because what if you've misread the ball? You can't just wait on the back foot, because he's quick off the pitch and the margin for error is small. His average - 14.42 - is the best for any bowler with 30 scalps or more.

Then meet Ajantha Mendis, disaster. When he sends down long hops and full tosses no one travels faster. If he has one bad over, he rarely reins it back. He holds a clutch of records, but when he concedes as many in an over as any Sri Lanka bowler before, his numbers seem hollow.

Perhaps he just had a bad day. He was only going at nine an over before Alex Hales ransacked him for 25. But it all seemed so pre-destined. With two Lasith Malinga overs stashed away for the final five, Mendis' last over was the pivot. Hales took a running leap onto his side of the see-saw and slippery-handed Sri Lanka went flying off the other end.

Few bowlers will have inspired so many team sessions hunched over the analysts' screen - batsmen looking on in a state of intrigue and befuddlement, until suddenly one of them jumps from his seat, yelling "eureka". Slowed down in high definition, all sorcery will seem little more than sleight of hand. In Tests, Mendis was dismantled and an unearthly bowling average hurtled down through the atmosphere.

That he remains effective in T20s says plenty about the format. A split second of batting hesitation cedes swathes of ground to the bowler, and Mendis can twist his hand in so many different ways, he still induces the flash of confusion that earns him his wickets

It has been difficult at times to determine what ails him when the bowler with magic fingers, suddenly appears to have grown hooves at the end of his arms. But clear patterns had also emerged, long before this World T20 campaign. Sri Lanka missed the flashing neon signs that a meltdown was imminent.

For one, Mendis is a form bowler, and one wayward outing often snowballs into several. In the past two weeks, he has been expensive against West Indies, South Africa and England. Perhaps the team's leadership had been misled by his three wickets against Netherlands, but given the seamers had already annihilated the top order before Mendis was tossed the ball in that match, that error is like falling for the "I've got your nose" trick.

More than that: there was dew. Plenty of it, since before the match began. On a clear night, following a hot day, Sri Lanka must have known the ground would be wet. It was so sodden, they rifled through five balls in their 20 overs in the field. That Mendis' grip is among the most delicate in the world is well known. That he fluffs his lines and lengths when given a soggy ball has been previously observed. When there is modest turn, as has been the case in Chittagong so far, he is vulnerable twice over, because he rarely gets the ball to spit, even in dustbowls.

"Mendis is a wicket-taker, so my expectation as a captain was that he would take wickets," Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal said, about bringing Mendis back for the over that went for 25. "When we bowled him for that last over, we needed a wicket. Unfortunately that didn't happen. Any bowler can bowl poorly and go for runs. Mendis tried to send down good overs, but unfortunately he couldn't do that in the last over. As a team we accept that. We didn't bowl well, and that's why we lost."

If Sri Lanka's spin-stocks had been threadbare, persevering so long with Mendis might be forgivable. But Rangana Herath, one of the world's most dependable spinners, warms their dugout. Mendis bags heavier hauls when he is soaring, but most sides would see Herath's economy rate of less than six and think Sri Lanka mad for keeping him out. Chandimal suggested the XI might change for the New Zealand match, and Mendis' perch is the wobbliest.

International batsmen have sunk considerable time, thought and effort into cracking the Mendis code; into knowing what is about to arrive before the ball hits the pitch. A bird of prey on some days, a sitting duck on others, Sri Lanka would do well to read Mendis better than they have in this tournament.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • POSTED BY sudaththa on | March 29, 2014, 8:48 GMT

    Yeah!! Mathews should captain the side.. Chandimal is a good player but not the T20 format..Sanath should take the blame.. Because he appointed him as captain and now they can't drop him from the side when he is not performing well.. Other thing is better sides are playing well against Ajantha and Thisara.. Yeah!!! Thisara had saved matches and he is a good player too but I think he shouldn't play every match. We can replace a genuine bowler in his place.. So all the best for the rest of the tournament.

  • POSTED BY on | March 29, 2014, 2:36 GMT

    Thisara Perera has NOT done much either. His bowling is well below international level. Bring Herath in for Perera and Thiri for Chandimal. Keep 3 spinners. I am sure Mendis will do very well in the afternoon games especially with NZ at this stage.

  • POSTED BY wazza85 on | March 29, 2014, 1:54 GMT

    The equation is simple. i don't understand why the SL selectors keep making these mistakes. Mendis has been thrashed in the last 3 games, obviously he is out of form.Just put Herath in for him. batsman have got used Mendis now because he is not a spinner of the ball you know what exactly his nest delivery is.

  • POSTED BY android_user on | March 28, 2014, 16:43 GMT

    India now displaces Sri Lanka as no 1 in ICC T20 rankings.

  • POSTED BY on | March 28, 2014, 16:15 GMT

    This is a good article about sri lankan spinners.as a true SL cricket fan, I think Mendis is in out of form so Malinga (next game captain) should replace him for Herath and also Priyanjan or Thirimanne for Chandimal, then we can see better team for whole tournament.Chandimal is good young crickerter but he have to improve his cricket knowledge because when he as a captain i don't think he have the ability to get a good decisions in crucial times.so best thing is give captaincy to Mathews.

  • POSTED BY on | March 28, 2014, 12:20 GMT

    Yes Mendis was taken to the cleaner by Hale but even Murali sometimes got mauled and despite the sitting duck theory he hasn't been mauled terribly often. Yes he does seem to lose his equilibrium at times but then again he is a proven big game player. I reckon he hasn't received high-level specialist coaching to address his vulnerabilities.

  • POSTED BY SL_Fan_5 on | March 28, 2014, 11:59 GMT

    Chandimal's suspension is so timely. He is a good captain but he needs to sit out this tournament. The team has played well so far, but its not a tournament winning side. SL needs to finish the tournament with Herath. Mendis does not know how to change his game depending on the pitch. I hope Lahiru place well, so they can't drop him for the rest of the games. I am on the fence with Tissara. If there was a better spinner on the bench, I would say play another spinner with Herath but I think he is still the best player we have for the spot. Just cant count on too many overs from him.

  • POSTED BY android_user on | March 28, 2014, 11:24 GMT

    As a Sri Lankan fan I strongly believe Chandimal and Ajantha does not suit this format and let me tell you why. Ajantha does not turn the bowl much, his main weapon is the carom ball, he like when the ball is skidding but when the batsmen play him within the stumps he's not effective much, also he bowl so many loose balls and full tosses as well, in Asia cup he got kohli out bowled but since then he didn't manage to trouble any major batsmen, yesterday Sena did manage to spin the bowl and that's why he didn't went for many runs, but Ajantha didn't turn the bowl so he got hammered, so did windies in the practice match. Mr Chandimal has a poor T20 average and a Strike Rate, maybe below poor, yet selectors made him the captain, it's like throwing a new comer to an ocean, Anii should Captain the side and let chandimal fight for his spot, we are benching Thiri and playing utter rubbish batsmen, this is insane.

  • POSTED BY Rogue777 on | March 28, 2014, 11:00 GMT

    Can someone please tell me what happened to Akila Dananjaya?

  • POSTED BY Udendra on | March 28, 2014, 10:45 GMT

    Mendis re-introduced the "carrom ball" to the cricketing world and others have had good success in using it, while Mendis hasn't improved. funny game.

  • POSTED BY sudaththa on | March 29, 2014, 8:48 GMT

    Yeah!! Mathews should captain the side.. Chandimal is a good player but not the T20 format..Sanath should take the blame.. Because he appointed him as captain and now they can't drop him from the side when he is not performing well.. Other thing is better sides are playing well against Ajantha and Thisara.. Yeah!!! Thisara had saved matches and he is a good player too but I think he shouldn't play every match. We can replace a genuine bowler in his place.. So all the best for the rest of the tournament.

  • POSTED BY on | March 29, 2014, 2:36 GMT

    Thisara Perera has NOT done much either. His bowling is well below international level. Bring Herath in for Perera and Thiri for Chandimal. Keep 3 spinners. I am sure Mendis will do very well in the afternoon games especially with NZ at this stage.

  • POSTED BY wazza85 on | March 29, 2014, 1:54 GMT

    The equation is simple. i don't understand why the SL selectors keep making these mistakes. Mendis has been thrashed in the last 3 games, obviously he is out of form.Just put Herath in for him. batsman have got used Mendis now because he is not a spinner of the ball you know what exactly his nest delivery is.

  • POSTED BY android_user on | March 28, 2014, 16:43 GMT

    India now displaces Sri Lanka as no 1 in ICC T20 rankings.

  • POSTED BY on | March 28, 2014, 16:15 GMT

    This is a good article about sri lankan spinners.as a true SL cricket fan, I think Mendis is in out of form so Malinga (next game captain) should replace him for Herath and also Priyanjan or Thirimanne for Chandimal, then we can see better team for whole tournament.Chandimal is good young crickerter but he have to improve his cricket knowledge because when he as a captain i don't think he have the ability to get a good decisions in crucial times.so best thing is give captaincy to Mathews.

  • POSTED BY on | March 28, 2014, 12:20 GMT

    Yes Mendis was taken to the cleaner by Hale but even Murali sometimes got mauled and despite the sitting duck theory he hasn't been mauled terribly often. Yes he does seem to lose his equilibrium at times but then again he is a proven big game player. I reckon he hasn't received high-level specialist coaching to address his vulnerabilities.

  • POSTED BY SL_Fan_5 on | March 28, 2014, 11:59 GMT

    Chandimal's suspension is so timely. He is a good captain but he needs to sit out this tournament. The team has played well so far, but its not a tournament winning side. SL needs to finish the tournament with Herath. Mendis does not know how to change his game depending on the pitch. I hope Lahiru place well, so they can't drop him for the rest of the games. I am on the fence with Tissara. If there was a better spinner on the bench, I would say play another spinner with Herath but I think he is still the best player we have for the spot. Just cant count on too many overs from him.

  • POSTED BY android_user on | March 28, 2014, 11:24 GMT

    As a Sri Lankan fan I strongly believe Chandimal and Ajantha does not suit this format and let me tell you why. Ajantha does not turn the bowl much, his main weapon is the carom ball, he like when the ball is skidding but when the batsmen play him within the stumps he's not effective much, also he bowl so many loose balls and full tosses as well, in Asia cup he got kohli out bowled but since then he didn't manage to trouble any major batsmen, yesterday Sena did manage to spin the bowl and that's why he didn't went for many runs, but Ajantha didn't turn the bowl so he got hammered, so did windies in the practice match. Mr Chandimal has a poor T20 average and a Strike Rate, maybe below poor, yet selectors made him the captain, it's like throwing a new comer to an ocean, Anii should Captain the side and let chandimal fight for his spot, we are benching Thiri and playing utter rubbish batsmen, this is insane.

  • POSTED BY Rogue777 on | March 28, 2014, 11:00 GMT

    Can someone please tell me what happened to Akila Dananjaya?

  • POSTED BY Udendra on | March 28, 2014, 10:45 GMT

    Mendis re-introduced the "carrom ball" to the cricketing world and others have had good success in using it, while Mendis hasn't improved. funny game.

  • POSTED BY rohanblue on | March 28, 2014, 10:18 GMT

    Mathews should captain T20 also, dinesh chandimal is nt a good T20 player, unnecessarily occupying a place, thirimanne better option fr srilanka, otherwise this team is a strong contender fr the cup.....

  • POSTED BY on | March 28, 2014, 8:44 GMT

    The problem for Sri Lanka boils down to Mendis and Thisara. Thisara does not have a proper delivery stride, where he jerks his head back and as a result has no control on where he will pitch the ball. That is why he bleeds runs so badly. Whatever gains in batting he loses in bowling. Mendis is no more a mystery, and is now well known to batters all over who knows how to make runs when he bowls. Time to bring Priyanjan and Herath. The two will compliment Senanayake.

  • POSTED BY THEBEAST7 on | March 28, 2014, 8:29 GMT

    Good article and well said KnightRider12155. You read my mind. We Sri Lankans are not out from this tournament yet buddy. Chandi made few mistakes yesterday yes but he must have learnt from it. He will play Herath in the next game for Mendis. As you said, india and windies are really good teams but can be beaten, as T20 is a game which runs on finer things. One over can change the game on its head. India will cruise to the final easily as they will play against Saffers or Eng or NZ in the samis. Lets see what happens in the final when they meet this young SL team!

  • POSTED BY on | March 28, 2014, 7:33 GMT

    Well written, Master Fernando. It's a good article though and not biased, as some here say. I think it's an honest appraisal of Mendis. I myself was perplexed as to Herath's absence during such a crucial match, but at the same time, you can't fault Chandimal, despite being an immature captain, for expecting Mendis to do what he does best. It's a tricky situation. Hmm..

  • POSTED BY on | March 28, 2014, 7:29 GMT

    Call me crazy, but where is Akila Dananjaya when you need him? The bowler who could spin the ball with his variations more than mendis. Rangana will always be dependable and these pitches provide some spin for the bowlers who can give the ball some revs. It is a straight swap, Herath for Ajantha. Any spinner can travel the distance with these big bats, but you give more of an opportunity for a miss hit if you are a bowler who spins the bowl.

  • POSTED BY St.John on | March 28, 2014, 7:28 GMT

    I'll answer your question Andrew. He was a bird of prey at the beginning but is now a terrible sitting duck. As you say SL's best spinner sits in the dugouts.... People should start questioning Sennanayake too! Takes a wicket or two, but not a match-winning bowler. Its time to make some changes in the team before SL get eliminated.

  • POSTED BY mohammed-ismail on | March 28, 2014, 7:22 GMT

    My prediction has been spot on, NZ warming up to beat SL & kick them out of World Cup. Inshaallah, thanks for everything.

  • POSTED BY on | March 28, 2014, 7:13 GMT

    If I remember correctly, a simple catch was dropped by Mahela Jayawardene & the ball also went for a 4, otherwise the stats for Ajantha Mendis may have been quite different. So while I do appreciate the comments made, the article appears a bit biased against Ajantha Mendis

  • POSTED BY on | March 28, 2014, 7:08 GMT

    Ajantha mendis is a spent force now. All can read him It is time lanka groom a new mystery bowler.

  • POSTED BY KnightRider12155 on | March 28, 2014, 6:14 GMT

    @ true-cric-lover ; You said it mate! Its horses for the courses.. That how its played. SL sould not have picked mendis in the first place for y'days game knowing the dew will play a part. May be they were hoping to win the toss and bowl first but that's really scary even to think they were going in those lines as pros. They should have picked Herath OR, not bowled Mendises 4th over which turned the game. Poor captaincy from Chandimal. Hope they will learn and proceed forward...

  • POSTED BY KnightRider12155 on | March 28, 2014, 6:07 GMT

    Lets face the truth. Medis do really well when he is going against line ups who has not faced him before, He does really well in spinning tracks but sadly, he lose games single handedly when the pitch doesn't support him.. Then he become a medium fast bowler with no swing. It was stupid to play mendis y'day and against the Saffers. Herath did well in the warm ups (even against the Windies) so He should be playing instead of Mendis.. Hope the SL selectors and the captain realize this. Chandi shouldn't have given mendis to bowl his 4th over knowing he will be thrashed...y'days loss was a blessing in disguise for SL. Do the right changes for the next game and they will come good until they meet the Windies or the indians. Then it doesnt matter who they pick, they will end their campaign.

  • POSTED BY Charindra on | March 28, 2014, 6:02 GMT

    Very good article and yes, Sri Lanka must crack the Mendis code now and drop him for a while at least. I saw this coming when he was getting hammered by the Windies. Just stand and deliver stuff and without spin that was a good tactic.

  • POSTED BY on | March 28, 2014, 5:59 GMT

    This article says it all....DROP MENDIS, and bring in Herath. Both Herath & Senanayake have economies of less than 6, and in recent times Senanayake has been far better than Mendis. And ewe all know what Herath is capable of, even on an offday, he would at least finish with an ok economy rate and pick a lucky wicket or two; that has been Mendis at his best. That Albie Morkel wicket was due to good captaining from Chandimal, Mendis had bowled a full toss and nearly given the game away. So Mendis out, Herath in. That should really be the only compulsory change for the next game.

  • POSTED BY DTSM on | March 28, 2014, 5:46 GMT

    Its time for Mendis to take a long break again…..

  • POSTED BY Matt.au on | March 28, 2014, 5:40 GMT

    @ igalhena

    Interesting comments.

    As with a lot of sports you have players with talent but are unable to 'read a game' or like you say with cricket 'set a batsman up'

    So, often their talent takes them a long way but in the end their 'cricketing brain' or 'football brain' or what ever sport it is they'er playing brain holds them back from greatness.

    On the other hand you can have sportspeople with the brains but not the talent. Some of the great coaches/managers of all time have not made it to the top of their sport whilst playing. Cricket has many an instance of coaching greatness but only moderate success whilst playing.

  • POSTED BY on | March 28, 2014, 5:20 GMT

    A spinner has to be sly like a fox. The name of the game is "outfox your opponents". The wily Ajmal does it often. Mendis should pick up a trick or two from his book. At the moment he is like a open book and the better batsmen have him all figured out.

  • POSTED BY on | March 28, 2014, 4:57 GMT

    Well, Sri Lanka do have the option of playing Herath instead of Senanayake. This would give them the best of both worlds. Plus Herath can hit some lusty blows.

  • POSTED BY Chn2 on | March 28, 2014, 4:45 GMT

    Success of Ajantha Mendis has introduced so many mystery bowler and all of them have been highly successful in shorter format of game. But lack of a stock ball has cost them in longer format.

  • POSTED BY SLcricketteam on | March 28, 2014, 4:45 GMT

    That may very well be the his last outing for Sri Lanka in this T20 world cup.

  • POSTED BY igalhena on | March 28, 2014, 4:38 GMT

    Mendis got lots and lots of talent, But doesn't have a cricketing brain, he is not a tactician.He was successful from his first match, hasn't had to do anything to get wickets, because he had the talent. But, once he was figured out by batsmen, he hasn't done anything to sharpen his talents or tactics. Still he is incapable of setting up a batsmen for a dismissal. What someone should have done was teach him how to set up a batsmen for a dismissal, how to use the tactics.

  • POSTED BY true-cric-lover on | March 28, 2014, 4:25 GMT

    Well said and can't blame mendis. "there was dew. Plenty of it, since before the match began. On a clear night, following a hot day, Sri Lanka must have known the ground would be wet." . SL misses the trick here and hopes some changes will be done in NZ match according to the situation.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • POSTED BY true-cric-lover on | March 28, 2014, 4:25 GMT

    Well said and can't blame mendis. "there was dew. Plenty of it, since before the match began. On a clear night, following a hot day, Sri Lanka must have known the ground would be wet." . SL misses the trick here and hopes some changes will be done in NZ match according to the situation.

  • POSTED BY igalhena on | March 28, 2014, 4:38 GMT

    Mendis got lots and lots of talent, But doesn't have a cricketing brain, he is not a tactician.He was successful from his first match, hasn't had to do anything to get wickets, because he had the talent. But, once he was figured out by batsmen, he hasn't done anything to sharpen his talents or tactics. Still he is incapable of setting up a batsmen for a dismissal. What someone should have done was teach him how to set up a batsmen for a dismissal, how to use the tactics.

  • POSTED BY SLcricketteam on | March 28, 2014, 4:45 GMT

    That may very well be the his last outing for Sri Lanka in this T20 world cup.

  • POSTED BY Chn2 on | March 28, 2014, 4:45 GMT

    Success of Ajantha Mendis has introduced so many mystery bowler and all of them have been highly successful in shorter format of game. But lack of a stock ball has cost them in longer format.

  • POSTED BY on | March 28, 2014, 4:57 GMT

    Well, Sri Lanka do have the option of playing Herath instead of Senanayake. This would give them the best of both worlds. Plus Herath can hit some lusty blows.

  • POSTED BY on | March 28, 2014, 5:20 GMT

    A spinner has to be sly like a fox. The name of the game is "outfox your opponents". The wily Ajmal does it often. Mendis should pick up a trick or two from his book. At the moment he is like a open book and the better batsmen have him all figured out.

  • POSTED BY Matt.au on | March 28, 2014, 5:40 GMT

    @ igalhena

    Interesting comments.

    As with a lot of sports you have players with talent but are unable to 'read a game' or like you say with cricket 'set a batsman up'

    So, often their talent takes them a long way but in the end their 'cricketing brain' or 'football brain' or what ever sport it is they'er playing brain holds them back from greatness.

    On the other hand you can have sportspeople with the brains but not the talent. Some of the great coaches/managers of all time have not made it to the top of their sport whilst playing. Cricket has many an instance of coaching greatness but only moderate success whilst playing.

  • POSTED BY DTSM on | March 28, 2014, 5:46 GMT

    Its time for Mendis to take a long break again…..

  • POSTED BY on | March 28, 2014, 5:59 GMT

    This article says it all....DROP MENDIS, and bring in Herath. Both Herath & Senanayake have economies of less than 6, and in recent times Senanayake has been far better than Mendis. And ewe all know what Herath is capable of, even on an offday, he would at least finish with an ok economy rate and pick a lucky wicket or two; that has been Mendis at his best. That Albie Morkel wicket was due to good captaining from Chandimal, Mendis had bowled a full toss and nearly given the game away. So Mendis out, Herath in. That should really be the only compulsory change for the next game.

  • POSTED BY Charindra on | March 28, 2014, 6:02 GMT

    Very good article and yes, Sri Lanka must crack the Mendis code now and drop him for a while at least. I saw this coming when he was getting hammered by the Windies. Just stand and deliver stuff and without spin that was a good tactic.