Sri Lanka decimates India: Of the summer of Ajanta Mendis and Dananjaya's trickery

Mystery stays that way only when used sparsely.

 |  4-minute read |   26-08-2017
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23-year-old off-spinner Akila Dananjaya's six-wicket spell in the Pallekele ODI could be the biggest spike in ratings for the India-Sri Lanka series, more than any other moment in India's drab tour of the Lankan island.

His ability to bowl googlies without any notable change in action that left the Indian top order bamboozled is a welcome addition to the Sri Lankan factory of mystery bowlers that had gone quiet for some time.

The last bowler to leave a mark was off-spinner Tharindu Kaushal in India's previous tour, two years ago, but his action came under scrutiny and has since failed to come back.

But the real mystery spinner who incidentally was also discovered against India was Ajanta Mendis. I remember it was the summer of 2008 when fresh on the heels of his six-wicket haul in the Asia Cup final against India, Mendis delivered a sensational Test debut picking eight wickets in the first Test against one of the finest Indian batting line-ups of all time. None from Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly to Laxman could decipher Mendis' carrom ball.

Such was Mendis' hold over Indian batsmen in that series that reading his mystery ball right became an obsession for the great Indian batsmen. Some of us from the Indian media covering the series had the luxury to lounge back in the evenings besides the swimming pool at the team hotel with the coverage being superseded by Beijing Olympics where India had begun to register some glory.

We found these greats discussing business inside the pool, flicking their fingers like in carrom during their swimming sessions otherwise meant for relaxation.

ajanta-reuters-embed_082617093144.jpgSkippered by the shrewd Mahela Jayawardena, Sri Lankan authorities ensured the Indian media could only shoot Mendis bowl in practice from the side.

Mendis was a rage in the media too with the army boy from little-known Moratuwa town who could not speak or understand English pushed to do one-on-ones with Indian TV channels using the aid of a translator. Some of us also found our way to Moratuwa to document how the carrom ball may have been discovered.

Skippered by the shrewd Mahela Jayawardena, Sri Lankan authorities ensured the Indian media could only shoot Mendis bowl in practice from the side.

Anticipating a lot of close LBWs in the series, Sri Lanka made Mendis bowl a lot in the nets in the presence of wicket keeper Prasanna Jayawardena to master the art of calling for the right review. The DRS technology made its Test debut during that series and was utilised so well by Sri Lanka against India that it took years for the Indian cricket team to accept the system again.

The only Indian batsman who found an answer to Mendis was Virender Sehwag who struck a counter attacking 201 in the second Test that — in the context of the team being under a pump — should rank as one of his very best, even ahead of his two triple hundreds and his 293-run slaughter of Sri Lanka in Mumbai at CCI, if not better than his Adelaide 151 on his return to Test cricket in Australia.

Mendis who got 26 wickets in the series combined with the great Muralitharan who got 21 to together account for 47 Indian scalps as Sri Lanka beat India 2-1.

cricket-690_082617093514.jpgAkila Dananjaya left the Indian top order bamboozled.

Mendis remained a force with his mystery ball for a year and a half in the game. But with time and aid from technology, Mendis' carrom ball did not remain a mystery anymore and others like R Ashwin successfully added the ball to their repertoire.

Mendis would soon lose his place in the Sri Lankan side as his over reliance on the mystery ball affected the quality of his stock ball and he became easy picking for the batsmen.

I last met Mendis two years back in Colombo where he had stuck to his trade, yearning for a comeback. He had learnt to speak fluent English by then but rediscovering the magic of the old wasn't proving easy.

Incidentally, it was Ajanta Mendis who played one of the witnesses in Dananjaya's marriage, a day before his heroics against India. Dananjaya could do with some friendly advice from Mendis to keep faith in his off-spinners and not to go overboard with the googlies that have brought him in the limelight.

Mystery stays that way only when used sparsely, the Ajanta Mendis story is proof enough.

Writer

Rasesh Mandani Rasesh Mandani @rkmrasesh

Broadcast journalist. A sports buff. Honest human being.

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