Sangakkara, Ponting hail Mendis
Sri Lanka began their World Twenty20 campaign by ending Australia's stay in the competition. Their captain Kumar Sangakkara, leading the side for the first time, remained unbeaten and secured victory but reserved special mention for Ajantha Mendis, who revelled in his first outing against Australia in any format.
Ricky Ponting concurred, calling Mendis a "unique bowler" whom they had studied but failed to counter effectively. "We've all had an opportunity to see plenty of video footage of him, but when you're in a Twenty20 game and you've got to go out there and play a certain way, you've got to take the challenge up to the bowlers," Ponting, who was one of Mendis' victims, said. "Today he got the better of us.
"He certainly had a big impact on the game. That was probably the difference in the game that their spinner did dictate to us a little bit through the middle of our batting innings."
On the eve of the game Sangakkara had said that Mendis would have to adapt accordingly as batsmen became familiar with his modus operandi, dissecting him with the help of video analysis. The Australians, however, did not have first-hand experience of playing him and the result was 3 for 20 in four overs. He bowled Ponting with one that went the other way, halting a promising innings of 25 off 15 balls; trapped Shane Watson lbw and breached Michael Hussey's defences as well.
"In a Twenty20 game, where you have to attack almost every ball you play, to have unpredictability, that mystery around him [Mendis] is good," Sangakkara said. "Batsmen will get on top of him on some days but more often than not he's a wicket-taking bowler, an attacking bowler."
Sangakkara expressed surprise at Mendis not being a regular of the Kolkata Knight Riders but said the very fact that he was part of the Twenty20 tournament in South Africa, along with 12 other Sri Lankans, would have helped immensely. It may be coincidence but the players from countries with lesser Twenty20 match practice leading into the World Twenty20 - Pakistan, Bangladesh and Australia - have struggled in England.
"Even if some of the players did not get consistent games, the fact that they were there, rubbing shoulders with some of the greats of the game, learning from that experience [has helped them]. They were training hard, learning to innovate and it kept them on their toes."
Sri Lanka, as a cricket team and country, has gone through rough times in recent months. Today's game was their first international since the team survived the terror attacks in Lahore and their country recently witnessed the end of a bloody 26-year war. They were reminded of that strife as they approached the venue, where 70 pro-Tamil supporters were holding a lawful protest outside the ground. Sangakkara, though, said that playing cricket was their focus and the team wouldn't bother about anything that was outside their control.
Three hours later, though, the scene outside Trent Bridge had changed remarkably. The protesters had dissipated and the only sounds emanating from outside the ground were deliriously happy Sri Lankan, and Irish, fans singing and drumming their way down Bridgford Road.
George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo