“Never before Mendis has a spinner dominated Indian batsmen so comprehensively and collectively”
That was how Cricinfo reported Ajantha Mendis’ meteoric rise nearly three years ago, as he exploded onto the test match scene, taking 26 wickets in three matches as Sri Lanka beat India. Now, 13 matches later, his wicket haul has stumbled to a relatively paltry 62 and 6/117 remains Mendis’ best innings figures. We at 51allout love a good stat attack, so let’s delve into the numbers to see if we can explain this seemingly incredible fall from grace.
Perhaps the most remarkable stat is how few matches he’s actually played. By way of comparison, Graeme Swann, who made his test debut four months after Mendis, is playing his 30th test in Wales this week. If confirmation of the two countries’ vastly differing priorities were needed, that’s it. Remarkably, the SWALEC Stadium is also the setting for Mendis’ first test outside of the sub-continent and thus far he has barely threatened England at all. Reports from the county game describe his short stint at Somerset in much the same way. On early-season English pitches, the lack of help from the surface has effectively reduced Mendis to a medium pace dobbler in the Paul Collingwood mould.
We can forgive him a slow start in England. He wouldn’t be the first overseas spinner to struggle during these May tests that are fast becoming a tradition (England have never lost the early season mini-series), but looking at more numbers his problems would appear to go deeper than that. In five test matches outside Sri Lanka only 11 batsmen have fallen at Mendis’ hand and those have come at a rather princely 46 runs apiece. Indeed, since that extraordinary start to his career, Mendis’ figures look distinctly average – 36 wickets at a shade over 42. To put that into perspective Suliemann Benn’s career average is 41. Mediocrity has become the norm.
So why is this?
Put simply, in an age of analysts and saturation coverage, the world has worked him out. His action is unique and it’s not hard to see why the Indians struggled when first presented with him, but it’s telling that a mere eight wickets have followed in three tests against that opposition since then. On top of that, Sky’s excellent piece on Mendis’ variations during Saturday’s tea interval provided us with a further explanation: he makes no effort to shield his grip before delivery. On the contrary, the ball is virtually presented to the batsman as he comes in to bowl. Whilst it’s unlikely Mendis will ever re-create his unbelievable entrance onto the international stage, he would become considerably more threatening by simply covering his grip – consider how dangerous Jimmy Anderson’s reverse swing has become since he learnt to shield the ball in his run up.
A lot of pressure has been put on Mendis to replace the retired Muttiah Muralitharan, but aside from the fact their actions are both extremely unorthodox, there is little comparison to be made. Mendis looks far from a man who will cause England problems.