Once the young batsman around whom Sri Lanka’s batting line-up was expected pivot, then a sudden dearth of form, and an axing – Kusal Mendis has an eventful few months. Not picked for the tour of India following very modest outings against Pakistan in the UAE, Mendis has made a triumphant return against Bangladesh.
Though not at his most effective in the ODI tri-series, it was in the first Test that his luck turned and he really struck form. Dropped several times on his way to a hundred, he moved into rhythm relatively late in that innings, and has been in excellent touch since. His rapid 68 in the first innings of the second Test was instrumental to Sri Lanka establishing a strong lead in that game, and now, he has put together two outstanding half-centuries in T20s – a format he had often struggled in.
Usually a No. 3 or No. 4 batsman, his move to the opening position since the Test series has paid rich dividends, agreed captain Dinesh Chandimal.
Before this tour, Mendis hasn’t played much as an opener,” Chandimal said. “He played a couple of matches as an opener at the very start of his career, and after that he batted at 3 and 4. On this tour, we had a chat we thought that he was a suitable opener, and we can get the right-hand/left-hand combination at the same time. I think he grabbed all the opportunities. That was really good. Now, there is so much competition in our team. That’s a really good sign.”
For Chandimal himself, this tour has been a triumph. Not only have Sri Lanka maintained the Test form they had begun to build since October last year, they have seemingly also made significant improvements in their limited-overs cricket. Having lost 23 of the 29 ODIs they played in 2017, and having also lost eight consecutive T20s, their emphatic victories in Bangladesh have been somewhat unexpected. With Angelo Mathews out through injury since the first match, it was Chandimal who had led each of Sri Lanka’s teams.
“We had a really bad couple of years,” he said. “I think now players are getting some confidence and trust. That’s the main thing. In the post-match press-conference also I said we didn’t just play as a team, we played as a family. That’s the main thing. We’ve got a good mix of seniors and youngsters now.”