Ajantha Mendis is a name that not many in the Indian Cricket camp would have heard before the Asia Cup started. If they would have heard it, certainly they would not have feared him.
The shrewdness shown by the Sri Lankan management in handling Ajantha Mendis is appreciable. The Sri Lankan think tank was working, like the way ancient war generals use to plan strategies while in battle. He did not play the last game against India, a very good move to hide a destructive weapon and then unleash him at the right moment.
It was almost a revisit to the time when the Pakistani bowlers came up with a unusual kind of swing that mesmerized even the greats of the game and immortalized the bowlers who could bowl it with precision. Many believed that the ball was being tampered with.
Only when the secret was revealed and the term "Reverse Swing" came into existence did every budding fast bowler make "Reverse" his best buddy.
Ajantha Mendis is much similar, probably the only bowler in the game who has a two finger grip and just upon the release of the ball flicks it with his index finger. Amazing as it may sound, but only now it becomes crazy, with that grip and action he makes the ball move both ways and the control with line and length is immaculate.
"Carrom Ball", the term being used to describe his action, is in for some success if the control sticks with him.
The man has nothing that can be classified as standard—his action is different, his grip is even more weird, and the style of delivery is still complicated. The thing that makes is still crazier is that he is classified as a right-arm, slow-medium bowler.
But I don't blame that the people behind that—after a very long time has come a bowler who is so unorthodox.
Right-arm slow-medium? Yeah right! Ask Rohit Sharma about it, he will tell you the amount of spin that Mendis was extracting from the surface.
The deadly part of his bowling is that after pitching, the ball skids on to the batsman and while he is playing for the turn of the pitch, the ball is already through him.
It is very important to read the ball off the hand and in the air to play spin successfully, and both aspects almost get completely negated while Mendis is bowling. The grip makes it impossible to read the hand, and due to the low trajectory you can not read it off the track.
But thanks to the latest technology that goes around cricket these days, the coaches will view and re-view videos and come up with something.
Mendis has just played some 19 first class matches and picked up more than a hundred wickets, with the average of around 14 runs per wicket. Not many back home in the Sri Lankan elite domestic league have seen him too because he played for a Tier B team, the Sri Lanka Army.
The 23-year-old says with confidence that he can bowl six kinds of deliveries, a first after the great Shane Warne. After making his debut in the Caribbean and announcing his arrival at the international stage in emphatic fashion in the Asia Cup, the things are looking good for the Lankan.
But the aspect that separates the Talented from the Greats is that of consistency. If Mendis continues the way he is bowling right now and keeps his mind focused, he can be among the likes of Warne and Murali. Even Mr. Jim Laker might fear him, if he continues to bowl like this.
So what actually gave Mendis so much attention so soon? Yes, indeed it was the bowling performance of six for 13, the performance that was initiated by the fundamental flaw of ignoring the roots of the game.
The roots of cricket are based on the theory of being a gentleman. When cricket was extending its empire, it was called a "Gentleman's Game". One of the most important factor of that gentleness, apart other things, was respect.
Respect towards the rules of the game, towards the umpires, towards your teammates, and most importantly towards the opposition. The word gentleman has vanished from the game, and with it the other attributes as well.
Yesterday, Indians showed a lot of that—disrespect for the opposition and especially for Ajantha Mendis.
The way in which Virender Sehwag danced down the track while facing him for the first time just seals what I am trying to say. Then Yuvraj had no idea of how to play him. Suresh Rania had a sudden rush of blood and played a shot that he would love to forget. Rohit Sharma got a beauty. Four for eight in four for Mendis, pretty much game set and match for Sri Lanka.
At the time when Virender Sehwag was going great guns, the Indians were cruising and making merry of the 274 set by Sri Lanka. After he left closely followed by three of his friends, the job for Dhoni and Party became troublesome.
The psychological balance of the team was disturbed, and even bowlers whom Indians tore apart in the last game looked dangerous.
By the time Ramiz Raja, sitting in the commentary box, came up with an idea of how to play Ajantha Mendis (i.e. to play for one type of spin and the other will get negated, according to him the way reverse swing was played in the beginning) the damage was done and the task looked greater than Herculean.
But take nothing away from the young man—he showed his class and bowled with a lot of heart, and I dare say the best in recent times.
Previously while the Sri Lankawas were struggling with four wickets down for nothing on the board and Jayasuriya started the comeback, on this Harsha Bhogle said, "Nothing has changed in Sri Lankan cricket, if they have to win, Sanath Jayasuriya has to get the runs".
Well Harsha, at least something was different in the last night’s game.