Sorry I haven’t posted in a while — every year, I sell my soul to Wimbledon’s second week, and this year, it was worth the price. It came at an opportune moment too, since the cricket world had nothing significant on its calendar to offer (what exactly is the “Kitply Cup” anyway? What is a Kitply?).
Of course, that meant I missed Ajanta Mendis’s first great claim to fame. I talked about the Sri Lankan wonderkid before, when he hinted at his potential during the tour of the West Indies. But he hadn’t yet matched the enormous hype that preceded his arrival on the international stage. There are players like this — Kevin Pietersen, or Shane Bond, or Dale Steyn, for instance — who somehow establish their reputation before debut. Some manage to live up to it (like the three I mentioned) and some don’t (like James Anderson and Gautham Gambhir, who both sputtered for years before finally striking gold).
But have a look at this man. Below, commentators try to take apart his action, underscoring why batsmen, even those used to spin, like Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh, have such difficulty reading him.
First, he has the usual spinner’s varied repetoire: loop and flight and spin (of all kinds: away, into, straight-on). Unlike Daniel Vettori or Monty Panesar, however, both of who rely on these typical weapons, Mendis also has an absolutely confusing action. Notice the difference between his doosra and his off-spinner: it’s a hidden middle-finger that decides a batsman’s fate.
Osman Saimuddin, Cricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent, compared Mendis to Karachi spinners from the 1970s, who fared better on concrete alleyways than cricket pitches and with leather balls. And there’s something to that — here’s a man who appears to have no stock ball and no real genius other than secrecy, mystery and sheer amateur guile. It’s fitting, then, that he comes out of South Asia, where most cricket is improvised.
When I played cricket as a youngster around Bombay, in maidans and pick-up games in apartment building grounds, I didn’t always knew what I would face as a batsman. I didn’t know names or styles, and I never knew what a bowler would send my way before his run-up. No one really ever specialized in one thing either; I myself would often mix spin with fast balls, while others would try their hand at leg-spin and then medium pacers. Mendis is a return, as Osman implied, to an older time in cricket, before specialization kicked in and the art of bowling became ever difficult to master without constant practice and guidance. Mendis bowls for the schoolboy in all of us, and he’s got the wickets to show for it. See below.