Mr. Equanimity. Accolades for Kusal Mendis

Rex Clementine, deploying Graham Ford, Island, 30 July 2016

Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford has done some high profile coaching jobs with the South African national team and English counties Surrey and Kent. Speaking after close of play on day four in the first Test against Australia, he said Kusal Mendis’ outstanding 176 was one of the best knocks he had ever seen. “It’s one of the best innings I’ve ever seen. It was an absolutely brilliant knock. He seemed to have a plan against all the bowlers – he had an option for all the bowlers. He showed real composure. The odd one did explode and turn on him but he didn’t bother about the previous delivery. He just focused on the next ball and got on with the job. He is an amazing talent. He works really hard and really loves the game,” Ford said.

AA=KUSAL M-Eranga Jayawardena Kusal –Pic by Eranga Jayawardena“He’s batted at number three in all formats across the last couple of months. He’s shown wonderful maturity. He’s shown signs each time of the possibility of making big scores. There have been really exciting cameos each time, but fortunately now he’s got one of those big innings under his belt and hopefully it will lead to a lot more.”

On a wicket where batsmen from both sides struggled with none able to score a half-century so far, Mendis’ knock was extremely special. “He’s an exciting talent and we knew he had something special, but had you still had the Sangas and the Mahelas, he would have ideally been blooded at number six or seven. But without anybody really putting their hand up to grab that number three spot, we thought he was the guy to get in and had the technique to handle it. Each time he went out there he looked like he had real capabilities to become a world-class and a match winning number three. So we decided to run with him and he’s paid us back,” Ford added.

While Mendis has excellent technique, Ford was pleased with the temperament he has shown on and off the field. “He just seems an extremely relaxed young man. Nothing really fazes him. He enjoys playing and he can’t wait to get out there and bat. Doesn’t seem to show any signs of nerves. He plays positively and plays his shots. He went to his hundred with a six – no nervous nineties. He’s just out there enjoying his cricket. That’s what it seems to be. He definitely puts a lot of thought into it. He works hard. But there’s no signs of him being too bothered, or worried about failure, which is quite a nice way of going about his business.”

Ford was quite happy with the status of the game. But said he would have been happier had Adam Voges not reviewed his dismissal. With Australia on 64 for three, umpire Richard Kettleborough ruled Voges leg before wicket to off-spinner Dilruwan Perera making it 64 for four, but the batsman successfully reviewed the decision.

“One thing I would say is that I’d be feeling a lot happier if that Voges lbw had been for real. It was disappointing there because a double-strike at that point would have put us in the driving seat. I think we’ve fought really hard to get ourselves into a situation when we can win this Test match. Pleasingly, a few balls started to turn quite sharply before the players came off for bad light. Hoping tomorrow that a few things will go our way, and we’ll be able to press home and hopefully finish off with a big victory.”

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II. Jon Pierik:Kusal Mendis ton leads fightback, puts heat on Australia,” … in ESPNcricinfo

Former schoolboy star Kusal Mendis was praised after giving Sri Lanka a glimpse into the future with a stirring century which will force Australia to negotiate a potentially treacherous run chase in the first Test. Mendis, 21, strode to the crease after the third ball of day three had left Sri Lanka teetering at 2-6 – and still 81 runs from making Australia bat again – but he had the composure and presence beyond a man in his seventh Test to post his maiden Test ton.

The schoolboy cricketer of the year in 2013 when representing the Prince of Wales College in Colombo, Mendis unveiled a full kitbag of strokes, from upper-cutting Mitchell Starc through gully, caressing a short Steve O’Keefe delivery off the back foot through mid-wicket with a flick of the wrist to effortlessly thumping Nathan Lyon for six over wide mid-wicket to reach three figures.

He found excellent support from Dinesh Chandimal, who would be dropped on 24 by Starc in his follow through. They joined at 4-86, before combining in a 117-run stand, broken eventually by Mitch Marsh. When bad light forced play to be abandoned 42 minutes after tea, Mendis was unbeaten on 169. The hosts’ lead had been stretched to an imposing 196, with four wickets in hand.

After being in control for two days, the Australians now face the prospect of having to successfully chase more than 200 for victory on the sub-continent. Only once have they done so, against Bangladesh in Dhaka in 2006 when they made 307. It will also be the first time an Australian side has batted in a fourth innings in a Test in Sri Lanka.

While Australia was left to rue what Adam Voges said were “missed opportunities” in their first innings, the tourists – regardless of the final figure they chase – would take heart from Pakistan making 3-382 in the fourth innings last year to win at this ground. Pakistan, it should be noted, are more proficient when it comes to playing spin.

Australia’s frustration was compounded when O’Keefe was unable to finish his 17th over because of a right hamstring complaint and was forced from the field.

Sri Lanka's Kusal Mendis celebrates scoring his maiden century.
Sri Lanka’s Kusal Mendis celebrates scoring his maiden century. Photo: Eranga Jayawardena

While it was rugged day for the tourists, Lyon had reason to celebrate when he became the first Australian off-spinner and only the sixth off-spinner in almost 140 years of Test cricket to secure 200 wickets when he had Dhananjaya de Silva caught at mid-off. Only fellow off-spinners Muthiah Muralidaran (800), Harbhajan Singh (417), Lance Gibbs (309), Graeme Swann (255) and Saqlain Mushtaq (208) had claimed 200.

He is also the 16th Australian to pass that milestone, and is likely to soon pass Peter Siddle (208), Stuart MacGill (208), Merv Hughes (212) and Clarrie Grimmett (216).

The tourists began promisingly on Thursday with a wicket from the third ball of the morning before the resolute Mendis, a former national under-19 skipper whose previous highest Test score was 53, dragged his nation into the lead.

Former Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene took to Twitter to declare Mendis’ knock a “great fight back from the young man”, while former Australian stars Mitchell Johnson, Adam Gilchrist, Dean Jones and Damien Fleming also joined in. “Kusal Mendis serious young talent. Small in stature, big on shots,” Fleming said.

To put Mendis’ knock into context, the hosts had made a modest 117 in their first dig. Having looked to initially attack him with traditional Australian fields, the tourists had to revert to a more sub-continental plan, with the field spread more and catchers in front of the wicket, including two in the mid-wicket region. Through this, Mendis retained his positive attitude, and responded by finding the gaps.

Starc, having claimed the sole wicket to fall before the rain arrived on Wednesday, didn’t waste time in again getting down to business when he beat Dimuth Karunaratne for pace with the third ball of the morning and trapped him lbw. The rot, seemingly, had begun.

Starc was given a four-over spell and was replaced by O’Keefe, who had sent a scare into the Australian camp when he rolled awkwardly on a misfield earlier in the morning. Silva and Mendis then put on 39 in good time before O’Keefe had Silva stuck in front of his stumps with a flat, quicker delivery.

This brought skipper Angelo Mathews to the crease, who needed to take a stand after failing in the first innings, providing only three overs with the ball, and having had no luck with his decision reviews when in the field. It wasn’t to be.

He survived a decision review when on eight – an O’Keefe delivery which replays showed would barely have clipped leg stump – but he had managed only one more run in a 41-run stand with Mendis before spooning a catch to Joe Burns at bat-pad off Lyon.

Mendis, however, remained a threat, and Smith used his second – and final – review when the batsman was on 69. While the delivery spun sharply and hit Mendis in front of the stumps, the review found it had pitched outside leg. It was a break he would more than capitalise on.

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