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Mendis' 176 was the series turnaround - Mathews

Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews has said Kusal Mendis' 176 in Pallekele was the performance upon which the series against Australia pivoted

Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews has said Kusal Mendis' 176 in Pallekele was the performance upon which the series against Australia pivoted.
Mendis had come to the crease with Sri Lanka still 80 runs behind, and already two second-innings wickets down. But his faultless innings spurred a middle-order resurgence, and Sri Lanka posted a score of 353, on a quickly wearing track. Australia fell well short of the target of 268. Sri Lanka then won the Galle Test in under three days, and were dominant through the back end of the SSC match.
"The key point I thought was Kusal Mendis' innings - that was the turnaround for the whole series after getting all out for 117 at Pallekele," Mathews said. "It was a special effort by him to get us on to a winning track. From there onwards it really kicked off. The confidence levels were sky high from there. We worked very hard and actually we worked harder than the first two Tests ahead of the third Test as we were desperate to finish this 3-0."
Despite having top-scored in each of the first two Tests, Mendis was the second-highest run-scorer in the series, surpassed by 24-year-old Dhananjaya de Silva, who collected 325 runs at an average of 65. Mendis, however, had only scored one first-class century before this series, and had been picked almost solely on potential, when he initially made the Test team last October.
"It's just pure talent, with the young batsmen," Mathews said. "I suppose Dhananjaya has played a bit of first-class cricket, but Kusal Mendis hasn't. We've got to take that chance with some people sometimes, and it's paid off. You can see the way they batted in extreme conditions - it was turning square. They had Nathan Lyon, Jon Holland, and Steve O'Keefe in the first game. Mitchell Starc has been outstanding in the last three or four weeks as well. The calmness and composure of Dhananjaya at No. 7 was great. He handled that pressure well. Kusal Perera also played some brisk knocks, so the future is bright."
Rangana Herath, however, was Sri Lanka's key performer in the series. He claimed 28 wickets at an average of 12.75. Only Muttiah Muralitharan has taken more wickets for Sri Lanka in a single series - against Zimbabwe in 2001. Herath had also been visibly hampered by a groin injury during the SSC Test, in which he took 13 for 145.
"Rangana was fantastic," Mathews said. "He was bowling off one leg, but one leg was enough for him. He got hit while batting and then he had a groin strain. He couldn't run and he couldn't jump. He was just landing the ball on one leg, and he is unbelievable. He has taken 28 wickets in the series and is one of the best I have seen. The batsmen are having a nightmare facing him no matter how well they play spin. He has been a great team man as well."
Herath himself said that he did not envision a whitewash against Australia, prior to the series. He echoed Mathews' praise of Mendis and de Silva, but also had encouraging words for left-arm wristspinner Lakshan Sandakan, who took nine wickets at an average of 23 across the three Tests - though, he did not get a breakthrough at the SSC.
"Sandakan had a good game at Pallekele," Herath said. "What I believe is, that when you have three spinners, all three are not going to get wickets in the same game. It will vary. He is a very good bowler. He has to also learn a few things - like control. I am pretty sure that he will learn quickly, and become a very good bowler."

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando