Balapuwaduge Ajantha Winslow Mendis
March 11, 1985, Moratuwa
Right hand Bat
Right arm Offbreak
Ajantha Mendis reintroduced mystery to spin in the era of video analysts and super-slow-motion replays. Much like the original mystery spinner, Jack Iverson, and the other practitioner of the "Iversons", John Gleeson, Mendis stunned the world with his finger-flicked legbreaks. His Iversons came with a new name, the "carrom ball", taken from the way the striker is flicked in the popular board game in the subcontinent.
His first, most famous, and most comprehensive victims were the most prolific middle order of his time: Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly. Following closely on the heels of a six-for in the Asia Cup final against India's ODI side, Mendis made a sensational Test debut. He took eight wickets in his first Test and 26 in his first series, two more than Alec Bedser's record for a three-match debut series.
The early success was built as much on his variations - offbreaks, topspinners, carrom balls, googlies, ones that did nothing - as it was on accuracy and Muttiah Muralitharan's company. As the mystery wore, though, much like with Iverson and Gleeson, the world caught up with him, and Mendis failed to live up to the early promise. By the time Murali retired, Mendis was not ready to take over as the leading Sri Lankan spinner, a vast change from when he could have emerged as the leading spinner in the world.
Mendis continues to be an effective spinner in shorter formats where batsmen don't have much time to adjust. He holds the record for the best figures in a T20I innings, but fails to find a regular place in the Sri Lankan side for the longer formats. The rest of his career will be an exercise in trying to rediscover success, this time not through mystery but by being a really good spinner.
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