Kusal Mendis’ knock in the second innings of the Colombo Test lasted only 135 balls. It wasn’t enough to alter the fate of the game but it postponed Sri Lanka’s defeat and that too, in a glorious manner.
Mendis’ innings on the third day of the second Test was far from perfect. It was scratchy and at times even ugly. He was beaten on numerous occasions, there were LBW shouts and one dropped catch as well. But even then, it was a beautiful innings.
It was an innings that gave the Sri Lankan supporters present at the SSC ground something to cheer about and to make their presence felt. For two days they had watched in silence the systematic annihilation of their bowlers by Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane and then the havoc created by R Ashwin’s spin bowling.
Finally, with the right-hand batsman’s arrival at the crease, Sri Lankan fans witnessed what they had come to see on a Sunday afternoon at the SSC ground.
When Mendis batted in the second innings, Sri Lanka realized for the first time in the Test that they were an opponent of India. Until then for two and half days it felt like Sri Lanka were a stuffed toy specially created so that India can kill their boredom and have some fun.
The duel with Jadeja in the beginning
Mendis’ special hundred in the second innings began on an ugly note. On the ninth ball he faced, he was dropped by Shikhar Dhawan, standing at mid-on. Then in the 18th over he was given out caught behind against the bowling of Ravindra Jadeja. The Sri Lankan survived because of the DRS as the third umpire upheld his review and forced the on-field umpire to reverse his decision.
Jadeja kept on tormenting Mendis with his left-arm spin. The Sri Lankan batsman was clearly struggling against the ball that moved away from him and Jadeja kept on probing him by bowling on and around off-stump.
And then began the counter-attack which brought back life in the Test and forced Kohli and Co. to change their plans. It was innovative, daring and full of venom.
In the 19th over, Jadeja was collared for four boundaries in one over. A powerful punch in the covers and a crackling cut wide of the point fielder was followed by a sweep shot. Then a deft touch on the last ball ensured that Mendis collected 16 runs from the over.
In Jadeja’s next two overs, the right-hand batsman accumulated two more boundaries. Both these boundaries were a result of edges but the method didn’t matter. What mattered was the end result. The flurry of boundaries against Jadeja forced Kohli to replace him with Umesh Yadav.
By playing the slog sweep, by taking on the spinner and by going for the kill, Mendis had prevented India’s ace bowler from bowling. The counter-attack had worked. India had blinked first. It was Sri Lanka’s first strategic win over the visitors in eight sessions at the SSC ground.
A hundred to cherish
What made Mendis’ counter-attack special was the fact that it wasn’t a cameo. It was a full-fledged innings that began on an aggressive note and flourished with time without losing any intensity. Throughout his innings, the right-hand batsman kept on attacking Indian spinners and prevented them from settling down.
The pitch was deteriorating, the spin was becoming vicious and Sri Lanka’s defeat was certain. But amidst the despair, the Sri Lankan batsman continued to fight back. And that too in style. He fought back by reverse-sweeping the best off-spinner in the world and in neutralizing the number one bowler in Test cricket in conditions that favoured the bowler.
It was neither perfect nor technically sound. But it was what the hosts needed the most at that moment. And it was also what the Test series needed to keep the fans interested in it. It was Sri Lanka’s fight back. It was a sign of resilience which the island nation had displayed rarely in the last few Tests.
A hope for the hosts
Just when Mendis looked good to end the third day without getting out, he edged Hardik Pandya to the wicket-keeper. With only six overs left before the stumps, the Sri Lankan batsman went for an expansive drive. He chased a delivery that was outside the off stump and in the process inside-edged the ball.
His aggression brought his downfall. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was he lived by the sword and died by the sword. Even before Mendis came to the crease, the fate of the game was sealed and hence he had only two options left with him. One was to stay defensive and spend as much time at the crease as he can and the other was to play his natural game and risk his wicket on every delivery.
The first option was safe but the second one had pride in it. Mendis choose pride over safety and in the process ignited hope in Sri Lanka’s camp. A hope, which perhaps, they will carry with them to the third Test along with this massive defeat.