Kusal Mendis: School boy to Oz-Tormentor in 3 years
Before the end of 3rd day’s play between Sri Lanka and Australia at Pallekele the following were realities:
. No one had scored a test-century against Australia for Sri Lanka under the age of 22 years.
. 137 was the highest score for a Sri Lankan batsman in home tests against Australia.
. Only 1 batsman had scored 150+ runs against Australia in a test innings at an age of 21 or less.
. No player had gotten past the score of 50 in the ongoing test match; and
. Kusal Mendis was just another putative out-of-school Sri Lankan cricketer in this under-transformation Sri Lankan side.
At 6 for 2 Sri Lanka were struggling at the beginning of the third day and you could see the same doubts cropping up again for Sri Lanka . The Australians seemed determined to run through the Sri Lankan batting line-up before the close of play. And next in their firing line was a 21-year-old who didn’t look a day over 17, at no. 4: Kusal Mendis. Someone who didn’t have a great report card to show, only one first-class century before today, a test batting average of almost 31 and someone who only lasted seven deliveries in the first innings.
Up against a rollicking Mitchell Starc and company, this young ‘kid’ was just another Sri Lankan batsman in this new-age Sri Lankan line-up you thought would gradually do better.
While wickets kept falling at the other end, like a sincere laborious high-school student, Mendis kept at his job, a single here, a double there, unperturbed by what was happening at the other end. He had his share of reprieves, at 66 runs, Australians didn’t take a review they should’ve ideally taken, he missed a sweep shot against Lyon, then batting at 142 runs, he hit one straight to Josh Hazlewood who dropped a fairly easy caught and bowled chance.
But, it seemed like one of those days for Mendis, where he could’ve bugged the principal’s office with crackers and gotten away with just a pat on his wrist. The cynic could’ve stood up and said, but he is a very traditional batsman, very slow, but before that, Mendis hit a six off the 143rd delivery he faced to bring up his maiden test century! The young lad seemed to have come of age.
It isn’t over until it’s over – Can Sri Lanka Cricket believe again?
A previous best score of 108* in First-Class cricket and 53 in International tests, Mendis went from a school-boy to a persistent Oz headache on day 3, in a flash. When he stepped in to bat, his team needed to score another 80 runs to ensure that Australians batted again in this test, and at 6 for 2, that seemed like a shore too far. By the time Sri Lanka put 100 runs on board, Kusal had contributed 75 of them. And the tensed Sri-Lankan dressing room seemed to finally relax a tad.
The task is still- as they say- far from done for Mendis, if only Sri Lanka’s lower middle order stays long enough with Mendis, he would like to substantiate on that lead of 196 runs and get closer to Kumar Sangakkara’s mark of 201 runs (the highest by any Sri Lankan batsman against Australia in test matches).
But, for all you know, the young man isn’t thinking of any of it at the moment. At just over 21 years, he has lived the dream so many of us fantasize about, he came in when his national side needed a solid innings, he played sensibly, hit a six to bring up his century, and has suddenly careened the balance 60-40 in his side’s favour. The chuffed young man is sure to have a sleepless night!
When Mendis comes out to bat tomorrow alongside Dilruwan Perera- who is currently batting at 5*- he will know that another 100 runs in a session and a half and he can gleefully toss the ball to his elder pal in the team: Rangana Herath and say, go get’em mate!
What tomorrow holds for Sri Lanka, Australia and Mendis is unknown to all of us, especially after what has happened today. You can’t help but glue to your tv screens and watch a fine young talent come of age against a very passionate side which lives by the philosophy that, it isn’t over until it’s over. A new-look Sri Lankan team looked dismal until yesterday, but, maybe, it required 169* runs off 243 balls from a precocious youngster to make a young side and a small nation of passionate cricket fans believe, again. Yes, they believe, Sri Lanka believe.
At the end of play on Day 3:
. Kusal Mendis has become the second youngest batsman to have scored a score of 150+ against Australia. (Youngest: Graeme Pollock at the age of 19, score of 175)
. 169* is now the highest score by a Sri Lankan batsman against Australia in home tests.
. A Sri Lankan batsman now has a test century against Australia at the youngest age of 21 years and 177 days; and
. Kusal Mendis is no more an out-of-school newbie but a prospect the world will watch keenly.
The schoolboy has stood up and wants to get noticed, all in a day’s cricket! Oh, the beauty of this sport!