Mendis masterclass suggests life after Sri Lanka batting greats
REUTERS - For a nation in the throes of a tricky transition since stalwarts Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene walked off into the sunset, Kusal Mendis' batting heroics against Australia on Thursday will offer new hope to Sri Lanka.
Already on the back foot after conceding an 86-run first innings lead, they were reeling on six for two when the 21-year-old walked out to bat at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium.
By the time he walked off -- thwarted by rain rather than any of the bowlers from the world's top-ranked test team -- Mendis was unbeaten on 169 after a 243-ball masterclass and Sri Lanka 196 runs ahead with four wickets in hand.
In a bowler-dominated contest where no other batsman has managed a fifty, Mendis nonchalantly brought up his maiden test century, hitting off-spinner Nathan Lyon over the ropes.
"What a knock by the youngster @KusalMendis1 character and ability. Sri Lanka poised to win this now. What an innings. Outstanding," tweeted Sangakkara, who hung up his bat last year after a stellar 15-year career.
Mendis, playing only his seventh test match, earned the praise of that other batting great, too. Jayawardene, who also quit last year after serving Sri Lanka with distinction for 17 years, tweeted his congratulations, warning that the youngster -- and Sri Lanka -- were not finished yet.
Even on Sri Lanka's tour of England earlier this year when they lost the test and one-day series as well as the lone Twenty20 International, Mendis managed a couple of one-day fifties.
And against Australia, as wickets kept tumbling at the other end, Mendis showed impeccable temperament, adding a match-high 117-run partnership with Dinesh Chandimal for the fifth wicket and raising 71 more with Dhananjaya de Silva.
As the 20 boundaries and the single six that flowed from his blade would suggest, he never retreated into his shell even when rebuilding the Sri Lankan innings.
With him in full flow, Sri Lanka scored at an impressive four-plus an over in the post-lunch session as Mendis almost single-handedly turned the match on its head.
The right-hander contributed nearly 60 percent of the team's total in the second innings, and 52 more than the entire side had managed in the first innings.
And he is not done yet.
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Neville Dalton)