New Zealand vs Sri Lanka: Kusal Mendis can be an able successor to Kumar Sangakkara if his talent is managed well

  • Rex Clementine
  • December 30th, 2018
  • 13:52:41 IST

Following Sri Lanka's disastrous Asia Cup campaign, head coach Chandika Hathurusingha walked into a selection meeting well prepared. Hathurusingha knew that the selectors would want to axe Mendis for his team's next assignment – the series against England.

The head coach compared the statistics of Sri Lanka's two greatest batsmen – Aravinda de Silva and Kumar Sangakkara with that of Mendis. At this stage of their careers, in every aspect, the youngster was ahead of the two former greats. Mendis is yet to reach 24 years. At 24, Aravinda had scored just two Test hundreds while Sanga had scored a solitary hundred. Mendis, on the contrary, has six hundreds in Test match cricket already. His last hundred came at the Basin Reserve where he batted for four sessions to save the game for his country.

Sri Lanka's Kusal Mendis celebrates after scoring a century during play on day four of the first cricket test between New Zealand and Sri Lanka in Wellington, New Zealand, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Kusal Mendis surpassed 1,000 Test runs in 2018, to become the second only batsman to do so this year after Virat Kohli. AP

This year, other than Mendis, only Indian captain Virat Kohli has scored more than 1,000 runs in Tests. Not bad for a young player to remain in the shadows of cricket's greatest batsman at the moment.

Mendis has scored three hundreds this year – all away from home.

There are ten Sri Lankans who have completed the 1,000-run landmark in a calendar year. Mendis is the youngest. Kumar Sangakkara was 27 when he achieved the milestone in 2004 while Angelo Mathews was the same age when he reached the landmark in 2014.

Mendis was picked out of obscurity. When he made his Test debut in 2015 aged 20, he had played less than a handful of first-class cricket.

The selectors had seen him score a hundred during Sri Lanka Development Squad tour to India early that year and they were convinced that Mendis had the technique and temperament to succeed in international cricket.

Soon he would showcase why his talent was special. The Aussies were in town in 2016 and the first Test was played at Pallekele. The hosts had prepared a rank turner and it was going to be a low-scoring contest.

Sri Lanka scored 117 in their first innings and Australia followed up with 203 all-out. The 83-run lead was going to be vital on a wicket that was deteriorating fast.

The openers were back in the pavilion with just six runs on the board in the second innings when Mendis walked in, he played a blinder.

It was a formidable Australian attack comprising Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon. Survival on this wicket was going to be asking for trouble. So Mendis threw caution to the wind, taking on the Aussie bowlers. There were some remarkable strokes and the best out of the lot was the slog sweep for six off Lyon to reach his maiden Test hundred. His knock helped Sri Lanka set a target of 268 and they won by 106 runs.

It was a mistake to leave Mendis out of last year's tour to India. He had had a tough outing against Pakistan in UAE and was dropped for India. A tour of India would test a young player and with Kohli's side ranked number one, young Mendis missed out on a good learning experience.

For the next tour to Bangladesh he was recalled, and Mendis showed his class with a career best 196 at Chittagong.

Perhaps the most accomplished current Sri Lankan batsman against fast bowling, Mendis has done well against the likes of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner on this tour. He was on course for another hundred in Christchurch and perhaps another match saving effort when he fell for a stunning diving catch by reserve fielder Matt Henry.

More challenges await Mendis over the next two months as Sri Lanka undertake two of the toughest cricket tours – Australia and South Africa. He should do well in conditions that will be predominantly seamer friendly like he has done in New Zealand.

At times, Sri Lanka have dented his confidence by making wrong calls. Mendis has done well when he has batted at number three and four. But during Asia Cup, the team management had got him to open the batting and he struggled, picking up ducks against Bangladesh and Afghanistan as Sri Lanka made a first round exit.

If authorities manage his talent without burdening him with unwanted pressures, Mendis should do well and go onto accomplish greater things.

It has been a terrific start for the 23-year-old. Sri Lanka have always depended heavily on one batsman to be the mainstay of their batting. In the early days, it was Roy Dias. Then Aravinda de Silva took the mantle on from him. In post Aravinda era, it was Sanga and now Mendis has emerged as his country's leading batsman. Don't be surprised if he goes onto break most of Sanga's batting records.

Updated Date: December 30, 2018 13:52:41 IST

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