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Ajantha Mendis says Virender Sehwag and MS Dhoni played him the best

The world was at Mendis’ feet once, before it was swept away from under him. If he can overcome the battles against his own body and mind, he can soon be partnering Tharindu Kaushal as Sri Lanka’s spin duo.

Ajantha Mendis, the mystery bowler whose decline was as sharp as his rise

Ajantha Mendis, the army man from Sri Lanka whose ‘mystery spin’ bamboozled batsmen all over the world during a magical spell of time between 2008 and 2011, before disappearing from the international scene as rapidly as his rise had been, has told Mumbai Mirror that Indian batsmen MS Dhoni and Virender Sehwag played his bowling the best.

“Of all the international batsmen I bowled to, MS Dhoni played me the best and so did Virender Sehwag. That Sehwag wouldn't let us settle in. You couldn't bowl one loose ball and hope to get away." 

The 23-year-old Mendis had given the Indian team nightmares on their tour to the country in 2008, taking 26 wickets in three Tests, outshining even Muttiah Muralitharan. The ‘carrom ball’, of which he was a proponent, has been tried by many spinners since then, quite effectively by Ravichandran Ashwin for one.

India’s experience with the DRS during the 2008 tour, especially while facing Mendis’ bowling, is thought to be the reason why the BCCI is not open to accepting the system – such is the far-reaching effects of the exploits of this one-time hero.

However, barely a few years later, Mendis is nowhere near to being part of the Sri Lanka team, and the aura he carried in his heydays nowhere near as imposing. It is also a mystery when exactly the ‘mystery’ of Mendis was unravelled, but Sri Lankan fans point to a county season with Somerset in 2011 as the series when the decline began.

With special attention paid to TV replays of Mendis’ unorthodox bowling by batsmen all around the world, his balls were not unplayable any more. He was also held guilty of trying too many variations. He had figures of 43.1-1-183-4 during a horrible spell against Warwickshire. 

All mystery of my bowling stems from my fingers: Mendis

Currently recuperating from a back injury, and raring to return to the fold of international cricket, Mendis had accomplished some feats which have not found a like in the years since – he is the only bowler to take two 6-wicket hauls in T20I matches – 6/16 against Australia and 6/8 against Zimbabwe.

On whether he has a secret routine to strengthen his fingers, like Australia's Johnny Gleeson used to milk cows on the sidelines of terrorising batsmen with his spin during the 1960s, Mendis says, "They are natural, absolutely god-gifted. But I do train very hard to toughen them. I know that everything about my bowling stems from my fingers." 

"I must have a wicket-taking ball. My bowling must not be limited to the carrom ball. That's why I am developing off-spin.

"One day I will return to the team, but I don't think I am being missed much. Rangana (Herath) is doing such a tidy job."

The world was at Mendis’ feet once, before it was swept away from under him. If he can overcome the battles against his own body and mind, he can soon be partnering Tharindu Kaushal as one half of Sri Lanka’s feared spin duo.

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