When Kusal Mendis, the 22-year-old batsman, was dismissed by Mehdi Hasan Miraz six runs short of a double-century, it left the dressing room filled with dejection. They waited for their young gun to cross the 200-run mark. His perfectly paced innings spanning 285 deliveries defined excellence and the promise he carries on his shoulder. His knock not only ensured a strong first innings score for Sri Lanka but also solidified their hopes of finding the next big batting sensation.
March 18, 2015; two of the greatest Sri Lankan batsmen called it quits. It was an emotional day as fans began to prepare for life without two of their most elegant batsmen cricket has ever seen (Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara). With the departure of these two, the Emerald Island was left with the duty of discovering the ‘next big thing’ for Sri Lanka.
It should have been easy. With a flourishing domestic structure and legends grooming young talents, the task was supposed to be simple and straightforward. However, it was not. It turned out to be a long and arduous process which hasn’t ended till now, almost two years since the fabulous duo retired. The Lankan setup has found the void left by Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara too big to fill.
Since 2015, no batsmen has come out to the fore apart from Mendis. Dhananjaya de Silva, his 25-year-old compatriot, happens to be the closest competitor to stake his claim to become the next batting mainstay. The selectors seem to have more faith in Kusal and the duo happen to compete for the same No.3 or 4 positions in the batting order. But many would argue, Mendis is definitely the preferred name in the selectors’ list on whom they place their bets. His story so far has been full of ups and downs and has seen him crawl up after a dull period on more than a couple of occasions in his short career.
Mendis has been showing glimpses of what is capable of right since his debut. The technically sound right-hander showed he has what it takes to bat in foreign conditions. The second Test of his career saw him score an impressive 46 as an opener at Dunedin against New Zealand, facing the likes of Trent Boult and, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner. He missed the opportunity to score a fifty in the following game as well and ended up getting out on a similar score in the Hamilton game.
His first fifty came at Leeds during the disastrous tour of England. After a duck in the first innings, Mendis re-confirmed his stature as the most promising talent by top scoring with 53 runs. Sri Lanka in that particular innings made only 119 and only two others managed double figure score as James Anderson ran riots.
His 176 against Australia which came while negotiating the likes of Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon was a clear indication that he is set to make a roar in coming years. He followed it up with 86 in the next game but his stocks began to fall soon.
The slump during the tour of Zimbabwe and South Africa brought his average down and skepticism crept in. Consistency became the keyword in the dictionary of the people critiquing him. The series against Proteas was tough in particular but it truly tested his credentials. The effect of the tough test was visible in the quick recovery he made in the form of his recent knock. He seems ready to rock again.
Age has been the factor that has taken him ahead of his likely competition Dhanajaya. Statistically, Dhanajaya, at 25, has a far better record than Mendis at 22. But what sets apart the 22-year-old is that he much better than the batsmen his age. Perhaps this remains the reason behind SLC’s confidence on Mendis. He has the years to face the challenges and groom himself. He has very few people asking questions about his technique. The opposition hasn’t found the vital weakness to exploit and damage on his reputation.
Having talent is great but not the only consideration to become a highly successful individual. The question lays in the fact that can he make the most of it? The answer to the tricky question can found only in the coming years. Until then, the Sri Lankan fans can hope that Mendis doesn’t end up joining the league of faded cricketers like Dinesh Chandimal, Upul Tharanga, Kaushal Silva and Lahiru Thirimanne.
All of them were once the future but ended up being just another batsman. A failure to build himself as the next Sanga or Mahela would see him fall in the circle of fighting for his place in the national team and going back to domestic circuit to find form.