Well bowled, Ajanta Mendis: Ashley Mallett
Former Sri Lanka spin consultant Ashley Mallett hails just-retired mystery spinner
The career statistics of Sri Lanka's carrom-ball specialist Ajantha Mendis (70 wickets in 19 Tests, 152 in 87 ODIs and 66 in 39 T20Is), who announced his retirement from all forms of cricket on Wednesday, do not do justice to the kind of impact he made on world cricket in 2008. But try telling that to Ashley Mallett, the spin expert, who had a role in Mendis playing for his country. "I don't go by all the statistics. Ajantha helped win games and he had a good career," Mallett, 74, told mid-day from Adelaide yesterday.
In 2006, Mallett was invited by the Sri Lankan board to develop a spin academy. One day, a young cricketer answering to the name of Ajantha Mendis arrived at the nets. He was asked by Mallett what he bowls. "I am a medium pacer," Mendis replied. Mallett's next words were, "this is a spin bowling camp" and Mendis wasted no time in saying, "I am a medium pacer but I can bowl off-cutters, leg breaks and the doosra." Mallett then asked Mendis not to bother bowling the doosra and bowl "your other stuff."
The former Australia off-spinner recalled yesterday: "Ajantha was terrific that day. I called Tom Moody [then Sri Lanka's coach] and urged him to have a look at this bloke. Ajantha was called to the Test nets, but the selectors wouldn't pick him because he was not playing the top league."
Mendis wore his country's colours for the first time in April 2008 when Sri Lanka toured the West Indies. He came to the fore in the Asia Cup three months later when he claimed 6 for 13 against India at Karachi, a final that Sri Lanka won by 100 runs. Mendis proved to be a stumbling block for India in the three-match Test series where he ended up with 26 wickets. "I was not surprised by Ajantha's fine performance against India simply because he was a different bowler but they worked him out after that," he said.
What did surprise Mallett was the fact that Mendis was never picked for a Test on Australian soil. "I thought he would have been sensational on these tracks. He would have got more bounce here if not enough turn," he said.
Mallett recalls Mendis as a sensational bowler, who reminded him of his teammate John Gleeson, also a mystery spinner. "Look, it was difficult for spinners [to break through] when Sri Lanka had Muttiah Muralitharan. I have fond memories of Ajantha. When he smiled, his full face lit up and his looks reminded me of Adam Gilchrist in a way. He's a lovely bloke. I will also never forget what he told me that day in Colombo in 2006: 'I am a medium pacer but I do a bit.' He sure did," concluded Mallett.
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