Colombo: Ajantha Mendis seems to be in love with the number six. Six for 13 against India in the Asia Cup four years ago launched his career into orbit, six for 16 against Australia in Pallekele brought him the best figures in T20 internationals last year, and it was a six-for again that blew away Zimbabwe in Hambantota on Tuesday and gave him the second- best figures in all Twenty20 cricket.
Mendis has had a difficult time over the last few years after starting off his career like there was no tomorrow. Most teams have started reading him from the hand, and his ‘mystery’ has diminished manifold.
But when Colombo woke up on Wednesday morning, Mendis was back to being the talk of the town. The World Twenty20 is, in any case, the primary thing on the minds of the Sri Lankan people right now, and it was difficult not to get excited about a bowling performance that was more than just a walk in the park against a minnow team.
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Mendis is returning from an eight-month layoff due to a back injury, but his performance moved his captain, Mahela Jayawardene, to sing paeans in his honour.
“Ajantha was very keen to get back into the side and we saw that hunger in him. We wanted to make sure that he went through the processes and get his back sorted out, which is why we kept him away for this long."
“He’s come back strongly and hopefully he’ll continue to do the job. I am sure he’ll have bad days, but the quality of the player is that he’ll have more good days than bad,” Jayawardene said.
But Mendis is an endearingly simple lad, and though his discomfort with answering in English might be a reason, all he said after the game was: “I am very happy that my return to the team was good. This was my first game, so I was a bit nervous, but the confidence given to me by my captain and teammates helped me a lot.” There are sterner tests ahead for the son of a carpenter from Moratuwa. Not just in this tournament, where the South Africans and other top teams lie in wait, but in rediscovering his mojo in all formats of the game.
After all, it would be a waste of a supreme talent if a bowler who took 26 wickets in his first three Tests against the likes of Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly, fades away with a career average of 32.48.