Ajantha Mendis arrived with such a loud bang that all the other bangs, literal and figurative, seemed insignificant. The dude brought down the awesomest middle order of recent times – if not of all times – which boasted a staggering 38,000 Test runs, four match winners in their own rights and a bucketload of experience to it’s knees in a whisker. 26 wickets in three Tests along with the series win is something to be proud of even to the Great Master Murali, yet it was not the mere number of wickets that was impressive. It wasn’t the stats at all; it was the manner in which he stamped his authority, in his debut series, against such celebrated opposition, was what was so striking. Each wicket – or rather each delivery – bamboozled the batsmen like nothing before, but none more so than the very first wicket of them all, that of Rahul – The Wall – Dravid. The ball, a seemingly harmless off spinner, pitched on that exact length where you’re not certain whether to go forward or not. Dravid decided to go back, and prepared his ever so reliable defense for a firm back foot block. In an instant he realized the mistake as the ball started traveling the other way and he hopelessly jabbed at it in an attempt to get the bat behind it, but to no avail. The ball crashed into the stamps leaving Dravid utterly bewildered, not knowing what just happened. His face said it all; he hadn’t seen anything like it before.
But then something happened, and the Mendis Code was broken, apparently.
The man who was destined to break all the records as some suggested was handled with ease, especially by the Pakistanis and Indians. Wickets dried up, runs started flowing and soon enough the wonder boy was dropped for a more mortal but reliable Herath to come in. But was the code really broken? Or more importantly, was there ever a mystery to begin with? Yes he had more variations than all the hair-dos Slinga employed to date put together, which is no mean feat, but he was going to be picked sooner or later. Nobody and nothing remains a mystery on a cricket field these days, not when twenty or so cameras are watching you from every possible angle. The ‘Carom Ball’ was something special, but if you can’t pick it off the hand you could pick it off the pitch. Specially these days where the pitches are flatter than a Jap chick’s chest. But you being picked shouldn’t be a reason for not taking wickets. Everybody knows what Murali bowls, what his off spinner is like, how he bowls the doosra, and the top spin. In fact, many a batsman started to pick him off the hand even, yet it didn’t stop him from getting a bucketload of wickets. A batsman after batsman fell for him, even when they knew what was coming. Such is the genius, AND control of the man.
The problem with Mendis is not that batsmen started picking him. Rather, it is that for some mysterious reason he’s lost his impeccable line and length. Yes, when he started, his line and length was more than impressive. He always bowled in that good length area, in a very good line. But of late, he has been bowling a six inches too short giving batsmen enough time to deal with his variations. And to go with it, he seems to have lost his confidence too; nowadays he bowls far too flat. The best weapon of any spinner, except perhaps that strange creature Kumble, is the loop of the delivery. If you toss it up more, you increase the chances of getting more wickets. However you need a certain level of confidence to do that. The likes of Murali, Warne and Mushtak (both Ahmed and Saqlain) weren’t afraid to do that. But now Mendis is, which isn’t a good sign. Also, someone’s got to tell him to stick to a stock ball and use all the variations only once in a while. Not necessarily six or seven, but bowling two deliveries damn well is what usually does it. Mendis needs to pick one stock ball and learn to bowl it damn well, on the right length and right line. And then thrown in all the variations for a change. That’ll make him the bowler he was, again.