Island Cricket

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Mendis factor: Sri Lanka's new spin-king looks the heir to Murali's cricket throne

The 23-year-old army recruit was brought to the West Indies as a filler for Muttiah Muralitharan. One mesmerising spell of 10 overs in his ODI debut was enough to persuade Sportingo's Mark Rivlin that Ajantha Mendis is going to be a massive success.

Having been married for nearly 20 years, and therefore not having much to excite me in the evenings, I put my feet up with a cool beer and settled down to the last 30 overs of the West Indies chasing 236 in the first ODI against Sri Lanka.

And my testosterone levels were revived at the sight of what could be the future of international spin bowling.

When Ajantha Mendis was thrown the ball by Sri Lankan skipper Mahela Jayawardene I thought to myself, 'Ah, here's the gofer the tourists have brought along to replace Muttiah Muralitharan'.

My words were not just eaten, they were devoured by a truly mesmerising spell of spin bowling which was translated into fabulous figures of 3-39 in 10 overs. Any bowler in the world - Murali included - would be proud of these figures but, considering this was Mendis' debut in international cricket, they are astounding.

The 23-year-old, we were told, plays his cricket for the Sri Lankan army. I suggest he's going to make a right officers' mess of hundreds of international batsmen's stumps in years to come.

This guy is the real deal. We were told he is a finger spinner, and he certainly is. But he's also a whole lot more. He has the lot - wrist spin, doosra, leg-break, off-break and, in the case of Darren Sammy, stump break. The nearest comparison I could make would be legendary Aussie Jack Iverson, the so-called "mystery spinner" whose action and grip caused havoc in the '40s and '50s.

What I liked most about Mendis was his cheeky confidence. He knew he had the Windies top order under his spell and he strutted around like a new kid on the block that no one was going to mess with. This is the mark of a young player who has the potential to become massive.

All this is great for cricket. It will not be long before a legend in the shape of Murali finds himself in the commentary box, and his successor is ready for action. What a treat for the fans.

The game itself was one of those once-in-a-decade classics with Shivnarine Chanderpaul hitting a near-impossible 10 off two balls to win the game for the Windies (I wouldn't have minded a spread bet on that outcome). Chaminda Vaas, with more than 300 ODIs under his belt, couldn't tie Chanderpaul down for two balls.

Jayawardene will learn from this. In future run chases he should throw the ball to his junior spin doctor who, on Thursday's performance, will have his team-mates in stitches.

Roll on Saturday for the next instalment.


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