He has been an international cricketer for barely nine months, and has only played as many ODIs, but great expectations are already being thrust upon Kusal Mendis. Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews has labeled Mendis "the future" of the national side.
"He's going to be a big player for us," Mathews said of Mendis, who scored his second consecutive half-century in Wednesday's 82-run win over Australia. "He's going to be the future of our batting. If he keeps going like this he will do wonders for the Sri Lanka team and I wish him all the very best. It was a fantastic knock today."
Mendis' half-century in the second ODI at Khettarama was the quickest of Sri Lanka's three fifties, despite Sri Lanka having lost both openers cheaply. It was also his fifth fifty in his nine ODIs so far - one having come in Dublin, two in England, and now two at home against Australia.
Mendis was particularly good at the end of the Powerplay, as Australia attempted to sneak in an over from one of their part-timers. Travis Head saw Mendis hit the first two balls of his spell for four, before the batsman struck two more boundaries and a three to complete 19 runs off the bat in that 10th over.
Mendis' early attack on Head created problems for Steven Smith, who resorted to bowling Aaron Finch, partly because Head was proving expensive in conceding 41 from four overs. Mathews said there had been no particular plan to score quickly off Head, and gave a glowing appraisal of Mendis' approach.
"He's just very positive," Mathews said. "Especially after losing a couple of wickets in quick succession, the way he went out there and the way he batted was brilliant. Not too many people do that - you take a bit of time and settle in and take a look at the wicket. But he's just going out there and playing with a lot of freedom. He's just a different kind of player."
Mendis is just one of several young players who have produced encouraging performances during the Australia tour. The latest to impress is 23-year-old left-arm spinner Amila Aponso, who took 1 for 27 in his first ODI on Sunday, and claimed the game's best figures of 4 for 18 in Wednesday's second ODI.
"Not all the spinners bowled very well out there, apart from Amila Aponso - in the first game as well as this game," Mathews said. "He's bowled in these two matches like he's played internationals for a long time. He's just landing it on the spot and keeping it pretty simple - just bowling it there and letting the ball do the rest. He's been turning a few and sliding a few. It's been extremely difficult for the batters."
More experienced players also contributed to the 82-run victory as Mathews scored 57 and claimed two wickets while Thisara Perera took 3 for 33. Also in the runs again was Dinesh Chandimal, who narrowly missed out on the Sri Lankan record for most ODI fifties on the trot, when he was given out on review for 48 to end the streak at six half-centuries.
"Chandimal's been tremendous for us in the Test series and also in England," Mathews said. "He's matured. He's also playing with a lot of responsibility - as a senior. He's anchoring the innings and that's what we want from him. Him batting at No. 4, we want him to bat until the 46th over, so that guys like Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera and Danushka Gunathilaka can go out there and play with a lot of freedom. In our batting line up myself and Chandimal have to take the responsibility to let the youngsters play with freedom."
With young players now winning matches for Sri Lanka, it is the oldest man in the ODI side that has now been placed under pressure. Tillakaratne Dilshan, 39, collected scores of 22 and 10 in the first two games, and the selectors now may consider dropping him in order to make way for players who could conceivably play in the 2019 World Cup. However, Mathews defended Dilshan's recent performances.
"No matter how experienced you are, it doesn't mean you will play well all the time," Mathews said. "You can get unlucky and get out. I got out cheaply in the last game as well. Though Dilshan failed in this match, others played well and won it. We trust that he will play well in the future."