During the Sri Lanka-Australia Twenty20 match yesterday, Ian Chappell could not stop comparing mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis to some Australian bowler called John Gleeson. I’d never heard of the guy, though my historical knowledge of cricket before 1996 is extraordinarily inadequate.
Nevertheless, I chalked it up to Chappell’s own annoying know-all attitude than my stupidity, even though the Gleeson comparison showed up in a Cricinfo bulletin as well as around the web. Now, a look at the averages shouldn’t inspire such a coupling; in his 29 Test matches, Gleeson managed an average of only 36.20, while Mendis has a cool 23 from 6 Tests and 13 from 28. (OK, admittedly not a big sample, but still!)
Then again, their bowling styles do seem to provoke some amount of debate. Cricinfo categorizes Gleeson as a “legbreak googly” bowler (whatever the hell that means), which seems just unorthodox enough for Mendis. Here’s one account:
Bowlers like Mendis add a touch of mystique to the game. But then he is not unique in the sense that the game has seen mystery bowlers in the past. In fact watching Mendis bowl my mind goes back almost 40 years to when John Gleeson bowled in India as a member of Bill Lawry’s side in 1969. Much in the manner of Mendis Gleeson propelled the ball off a bent middle finger. He perfected his unusual style by bowling at a Eucalyptus tree and produced a lot of variety by making more use of the leg break though perhaps his staple ball was the off break. Although he was generally tidy there were enough loose balls for experienced players, and even those who could not read him, to feed on.
Here’s the big question with Mendis: once the mystery of his action is solved, will he be just as menacing as he was today against the Australians? I’m not so sure. India seem to have tamed the beast recently, even though they were shockingly inepet during their first encounters with the spinner.