Shielding Mendis before final paid off

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As strategists, the Sri Lankans were outstanding and they excelled in executing their plans, Also, they recovered from a shocking start to run out comprehensive winners of the Asia Cup, leaving us in no doubt as to who were the superior side in the competition.


To have held back Ajantha Mendis for the final rather than expose him to the Indians in the preliminary league was a masterstroke even if such a move is par for the course when it comes to mystery spinners or very young fast bowlers.


Where India failed was in homework. Not enough may have been done in analysing the mystery spinner's bowling. I am certain the Indians would have had a video session to view the way Mendis bowls. But to play him in the middle is a different proposition altogether.


What the Indians could not gauge quickly enough was the pace at which the spinner bowls. He is almost slow medium, perhaps much like Anil Kumble. While the Lankans always prided themselves on playing Kumble like they would a slow medium in-swing or in-swerve bowler, the Indians had shaped no such strategic approach.


At the pace at which Mendis bowls it is difficult for batsmen to read him off the pitch, which is what a few like Yuvraj Singh and Rohit Sharma tried. Others who heaved across the line were partly foolish. They may have been right to get at the ball rather than wait, but then they erred in aiming crass strokes in a predetermined manner, as Sehwag and Raina did.


The sum total of the poor preparation was that one spinner stole the Asia Cup from India in a task that should have been accomplished after the splendid start that Sehwag had provided with consummate ease. To see such a player stranded in the first over by a mystery spinner was a bit like a race driver taking an eccentric chance when he is rolling along smoothly.


Dhoni is convinced that it would be possible to learn to read Mendis in the Test series because plenty of video evidence would be available, especially since it will come with a lot more don'ts than dos now. India's failure lay in not attempting to read him by taking their time, since the asking rate was so much in control when Mendis came on.


There is logic in the skipper saying that unless you played Mendis in the middle, a batsman could not pick him so easily. True, the effectiveness of mystery spinners goes down with exposure, as we have seen in the classic example of Johnny Gleeson who used to bowl with a folded middle finger behind the ball, much like what is being said of Mendis' carom ball.


What hurts in this era in which so much technical help is readily available within a team setting, with coach and video analyst an integral part of the operations, is that India proved such bunnies. Any master player of spin like Viswanath would have told them how to pick a spinner off the revolutions on the ball. Vishy did not have to wait to read a slow bowler off the pitch.


A few phone calls to Kumble and Vishy would have seen the team better prepared to take on the one stumbling block to a Cup win that could have been anticipated. I am not sure the team bothered. It's fine to be independent but in the professional era, teams have to be seen being prepared on the finer points for the crucial battle ahead.


In the final analysis, the Asia Cup final should be put down as an Indian defeat rather than a Sri Lankan victory, regardless of how well the islanders played in recovering from 66/4 to go on to win by 100 runs. Dhoni is happy that Team India are at least getting to the final, which is a fair enough point since India do win the occasional silverware. As the captain of the winnings Twenty20 world championship we should, perhaps, give him a longer rope. It might help though if his team is a little more professional.


Republished with permission from The Asian Age