The Asia Cup final was dominated by two Sri Lankan performers: One who has been around for a long time (Sanath Jayasuriya) and another who has potential to be around for a long time (Ajanta Mendis). It also marked an interesting moment when one heralded Sri Lankan freak-genius bowler (Muthiah Muralidharan) can start to think about stepping aside as another potential Sri Lankan freak-genius (Ajanta Mendis) steps up to the mark.
As a Team India fan, I was disappointed to see India surrender meekly. But as a fan of world cricket, I was certainly excited to see this 23-year old freak bowler, Ajanta Mendis, zip, zoot, scoot, shoot, flick and slap the ball at and mesmerize the Indian batsmen! None of them had much of an idea of what he was actually doing with the ball. Several of them caught the rabbits-in-headlights disease and a few more caught the brain-fry disease. The end result was that Sri Lanka won the Asia Cup by 100 runs with about 15 overs still left in the game!
At the start, I felt that M. S. Dhoni had made two mistakes — going in with only 4 bowlers and electing to bowl first. Soon enough, I felt that Sri Lanka had blown a perfect opportunity by being 66-4 before anyone could say “Jack Robinson”! Ishant Sharma was bowling well, but not that stunningly on a flat pitch to suggest a 66-4 scoreline! Then we were treated to the Sanath Jayasuriya show! It was a spectacular show with shots all around the park. Although Irfan Pathan bowled in a manner that suggested that he was, once again, losing his grip on his pace as well as his rhythm, and although one felt that R. P. Singh was bowling like a rich man who had suddenly become much richer through an unexpected inheritance, one felt that Sri Lanka were about 30 runs light.
We then had the awesome Virender Sehwag show that got India off to a screamer. He had 60 runs off an India total of 76 in the 9th over. Mahela Jayawardane, the Sri Lankan captain, was desperate at that point in time it seemed. It was a dice-throw, one felt. But then he perhaps knew a thing or two that the rest of us did not know! He had rested Ajanta Mendis from India’s last game against Sri Lanka! India did not get to “see” this freak bowler.
And so, he came on in the 10th over inside the first power play and changed the structure, nature and complexion of the game. He induced a brain fuse in Virender Sehwag (stumped) and clean bowled Yuvraj Singh who did not have a clue. Instead of defending a straight ball spat out from the front of the young magician’s hands, Yuvraj Singh tried an ugly hoik, only to be embarrassingly bowled! Suresh Raina said he could better Yuvraj Singh’s effort! He too was bowled! And thus the procession commenced. M. S. Dhoni hung on, but it was more grit than capability that kept him there! None of the India bats were able to pick Ajanta Mendis.
A future star was born!
Ajanta Mendis runs straight and bowls from close to the stumps. His bounding run up is similar to a Stuart McGill run up. From close to the stumps, he brings his right arm straight up by his right ear and then performs his “Carrom Board” magic.
It appears as if his ring-finger tucked in behind the ball. His index finger and middle-finger grip the ball in the usual manner of a split-finger leg-spin bowler a la Anil Kumble. This allows him to bowl the leg-spinner and also a “carrom board flick-spit ball” (the best way I can decribe it) with the same action! The “carrom board” flick-spit ball arrives more rapidly and skids on after pitching in the time-honoured traditions of tennis-ball bowlers in the maidans of the sub-continent. However, with the same action, he is also able to bowl the googly-spit ball too!
It will be interesting to see how Ajanta Mendis will travel. As Osman Samiuddin says, the video analysts will have gathered gigabytes of video data to analyse. I am sure he will be analysed to death. But suffice to say that, despite India’s loss, it warmed the cockles of my heart to realise that I had witnessed the potential birth of a future star bowler.