Kusal Mendis: Near a Milestone despite Recent Pitfalls

Rex Clementine, in Sunday Island, 2 February 2020, where the title is “Mendis on the verge of crucial milestone”

Young Kusal Mendis, who turned 25 today (Sunday) is  on the brink of a crucial milestone. He is just five runs short to complete 3000 Test runs, a feat achieved by only 13 other Sri Lankans. He will also become the second youngest Sri Lankan to reach the milestone when England visit the island later next month. Mahela Jayawardene, who achieved the landmark at the age  of 24 is the youngest and quickest Sri Lankan to get there (65 innings).  If Kusal keeps his appetite for big runs like Mahela, there is little doubt that he would join the 10,000 club of which Mahela and Kumar Sangakkara are members.

A Zimbabwean attack shouldn’t be the yardstick to gauge how good a player is. However, there’s  no denying of a few facts. Mendis looked slimmer and  fitter during the tour of Zimbabwe and if not for his unbeaten hundred, Sri Lanka would have probably lost the second Test. They have never lost a Test match to Zimbabwe before.

Mendis made in excess of 200 runs over three innings in Zimbabwe. Apart from his match saving knock in the second Test, he also made 80 in the first Test. He had not made a hundred in his last 11 games and a three figure score was much needed. It also saved him from the constant criticism that he gets from local fans.

The criticism sometimes looks totally justified as Mendis finds strange ways to get out. Often, he throws away his wicket angering not only fans but the team management and the selectors. He missed a maiden double hundred a couple of years ago when he attempted to get to the milestone in glory – with a six. He was trying to hit Bangladesh’s Taijul Islam against spin and was a caught on the boundary.

That wasn’t the only time when complacency had set while nearing a milestone. A few months before that, when on 194, he gave Mehedy Hazan the charge during the Galle Test and was caught at the long-on boundary again trying to get to the double hundred with a six.

But the moment that left everyone fuming was when he was run out at SSC against England with the team trying to save the Test match.

England had a firm grip on the game having taken five wickets for 80 runs. Then Mendis and Roshen Silva were involved in a hundred plus stand and the hosts were sure of saving the game and avoid a 3-0 whitewash. Then disaster struck. Having pushed one to backward square leg, Roshen hurried for the second run assuming the danger was at his end. Kusal running to the non-striker’s end, took it for granted that the throw wasn’t coming to his end. Jack Leach detected the sloppiness. He then targeted the non-striker’s  end and ran Mendis out with a direct hit.

Such brain fades make influential followers of the game go frenzy and selectors at times give in to the frustration and anger. But fortunately we have had coaches who have seen crazier things from prodigious talents and tend to go easy. Thankfully all the coaches we have had in the last four years – Graeme Ford, Nic Pothas, Chandika Hathurusingha and now Mickey Arthur have agreed on one thing. That is Mendis is too good a player to be dropped and has been given an extended run.

One thing is that we don’t have an abundance of talent in the cupboard and then once a player has been identified he needs to be given the longer rope. The stunning hundred that Mendis made against Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood is proof that he is capable of serving the team well moving forward.

Arthur, however, will not accept below par efforts and seems to be pushing Mendis. He might be able to bring the best out of Angelo Mathews as well having insisted on fitness. It was no coincidence that a leaner, fitter Mathews batted for ten hours in the opening Test on his way to his maiden double hundred.

Mendis was nearly dropped for the recent tour of India. But Arthur seems to have convinced authorities not to drop him, but to have him in the squad and then work with him during training. Although Mendis toured India, he was on the bench for all three games.

Mathews and Mendis are not alone. Thisara Perera too looks to have lost a lot of weight although Lasith Malinga’s weight concerns many. Whether Arthur will toe the line with Malinga remains to be seen.

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Filed under Angelo Mathews, Lasith Malinga, Mahela Jayawardene, player selections, politics and cricket, Rex Clementine, Sangakkara, unusual people

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