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Mendis glut revives Bangladeshi nightmares

Subashis Roy appeals for the wicket of Kusal Mendis AFP

One of Bangladesh's major narratives ahead of this Test series was the absence of "senior cricketers" from the Sri Lanka line-up playing into their hands, and giving them the best chance to win a Test series against them for the first time. Kusal Mendis' unbeaten 166, and his 196-run fourth-wicket stand with Asela Gunaratne, provided haunting memories of one such senior cricketer who had tormented them for 13 years in this particular contest.

If any one of the Bangladesh fielders saw the apparition of Kumar Sangakkara walking in from the ocean side of the Galle stadium, or even his name appearing on the scoreboard on the western end, they could be forgiven.

Sangakkara has the most runs for any batsman against Bangladesh in Tests, averaging 95.57 in 21 innings with seven centuries. But just like Muttiah Muralitharan's retirement in 2011, meaning no more additions to his 89 wickets at 13.37, Sangakkara leaving the international stage in 2015 was quietly welcomed by Bangladeshis. His last Test against Bangladesh, in Chittagong in 2014, featured a triple-hundred followed up by another century in the second innings.

Mendis hasn't yet done anything quite as big, and this is not intended as a comparison between him and the legendary Sri Lankan. But his grinding innings eroded most of the spunk out of Bangladesh's system by the second session. He turned Sri Lanka's fortune with his straightforward effort, hardly giving a chance after his first ball (from which he earned a reprieve through a no-ball after being caught behind). And it wasn't just a singular performance; he increased the impact of his innings via the repair work he and Gunaratne undertook after the fall of three wickets.

He was around when stumps were drawn in the dying light of Galle, walking off tired but with the satisfaction that the home side were fully in charge.

It would be easy to blame Subashis Roy's no-ball for all that went wrong for Bangladesh but the game slipped away from them slowly, starting roughly in the second hour of the second session. Coach Chandika Hathurusingha had said before the Test that he wanted the Bangladesh players to keep shape for the whole session and not just the first hour or the second hour.

The bowlers were in a groove that was built by dot balls, and enjoyed particular success in closing down Dinesh Chandimal, Sri Lanka's most experienced batsman in this match. The shot he got out to, an airy drive that ended up at gully, showed he was looking for a way out after being stifled for a sustained period. It was similar to how Keshav Maharaj held him back, and then took his wicket, in the second innings of the Port Elizabeth Test in December.

Even the wicket that brought Mendis to the crease, that of Upul Tharanga, had buoyed Bangladesh. Tharanga had struck 386 runs in seven innings in last year's Dhaka Premier League so, in the sixth over of the day, he was a big wicket for Subashis, his Mohammedan Sporting Club team-mate.

It looked like Subashis being chosen ahead of Kamrul Islam Rabbi was vindicated but, after that first spell, he was ineffective for the rest of the day. Taskin Ahmed and Mustafizur Rahman bowled more on the stumps and made all the batsmen play regularly, although Taskin was erratic in patches, giving wides and taking his time finishing his overs.

Bangladesh slipped off the pace soon after Chandimal's dismissal, with Gunaratne batting quite freely from the start of his innings. His acceleration, and the stability of the fourth-wicket partnership, made sure Sri Lanka picked up the overall tempo of their innings. Where they scored at 2.54 in the first session, it rose to 3.24 in the 29 overs of the second session, and a whopping 4.74 in the final session.

This let-off of the scoring rate due to the lack of maiden overs and a general dot-ball build-up is what cost Bangladesh ascendency in the game. Not Subashis' no-ball. If he had not bowled that no-ball, the scenario would have been different; but what Hathurusingha had wanted from his team - sustained pressure on the opposition throughout the day - was still missing after the first session.

Sri Lanka's 321 for 4 and Mendis' 166 should certainly serve as a reminder - but not of Sangakkara and the long days he kept them on the field even after reaching a century. It should motivate them to fight back, and regain a balance between the two sides, the balance they have talked up ahead of the series.