Kusal Mendis could not convert his second-innings fifty into something more substantial © AFP
Even team-mates may not have known much about Kusal Mendis when he debuted for Sri Lanka in October 2015, so limited had his exposure been to senior cricket. Mendis had played in 10 first-class matches before playing a Test. He was 20 at the time. If West Indies (his first opponent) wanted footage of his batting for scouting purposes, they would have had to go digging.
Fourteen months on, things have changed. Mendis played arguably the best Test innings of the year, against Australia, in Pallekele. But opponents now know he tends to nick off outside off stump early in his innings. Importantly, Mendis also knows that they know.
“Well, as soon as we come to cricket bowlers don’t know your weak points,” he said. “They’ll watch videos of us, like we do of them. They’ll work out a batsman’s weaknesses – so they would have of mine as well. So we need to evolve and fix our mistakes. Otherwise it’s difficult. If we do the same thing you get out.
“I’ve definitely worked on the problem of being caught behind a lot with the coach at training. The main thing is to stop playing that shot in certain situations. Not to do away with it completely, but maybe in the first few overs I’ll refrain from playing it. After I get a few runs and feel comfortable, maybe I can use it. There’s no major technical adjustment or anything. It’s just a shot selection thing. It’s important also not to impose a rule on yourself that you absolutely can’t play a shot. It depends on the situation.”
Mendis nicked off attempting a booming off drive on zero in the first innings at Port Elizabeth, but produced a higher-quality innings in the second dig, when he made a boundary-laden 58 off 90 balls. His dismissal, however, cut short perhaps Sri Lanka’s most promising partnership of the match. He and Angelo Mathews had put on 75 from 108 balls, while very faint hopes of a successful chase of 488 still held out.
“After I got out in the first innings the seniors spoke to me a lot. They came and told me not to be too disappointed, and that I have another innings, and to hit a big one there. I tried to avoid being caught behind and scored runs off shots I felt were safe. I was desperate to make runs in the second innings. I hadn’t planned on scoring quickly, actually. It just happened that way.
“But I wasn’t able to hit a big innings in the end. I had the opportunity to hit a 100 or 150, but I didn’t take it. I think my getting out was terrible for the team, in that situation.”
Sri Lanka now move to Newlands, where the surface is expected to be more seam friendly than it had been at Port Elizabeth. Among their primary aims will be neutralising the pace trio of Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott and Vernon Philander, who took 15 wickets at a combined average of 23.40 in the first Test.
“All three of their quicks are very good. We knew they’d played very well against Australia, which we had as well,” Mendis said. “They are in form. It’s not that they are too tough for us or anything – they just did their jobs better than us in the last Test. They did that really well. We’ve faced them now. All we’ve got to do is practice and play better in the next match.”
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo