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

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

  • 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.

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Warren 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.

  • Android on March 28, 2014, 16:43 GMT

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

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Sam 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.

  • Android 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.

  • Rogue777 on March 28, 2014, 11:00 GMT

    Can someone please tell me what happened to Akila Dananjaya?

  • 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.

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