Working his way back into Test side

Cricket : Ajantha Mendis on the mend after a back injury

Working his way back into Test side

Just metres away from the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) where India will play Sri Lanka in the third Test match, is the Nondescripts Cricket Club (NCC). Founded in 1888, it is one of the most famous clubs in the country where renovation works are going on as it tries to stay in tune with the modern times. In its gym and indoor nets is one Sri Lankan cricketer who is striving hard to rebuild his career after suffering a debilitating disc fracture.

Ajantha Mendis, the mystery spinner who announced himself to the world in astonishing fashion by scalping 26 wickets in his debut Test series against India seven years ago, has just started to bowl again, a month back after being forced off the game since December.

By choosing to play with a back injury that had been tormenting him since 2010-11, the 30-year-old just made it worse and it finally became pronounced at the end of last year from which rest and recuperation has been his daily life. The setback came in a year where despite falling out of favour in Tests, he kept himself in the scene by taking 38 wickets from the 17 ODIs he played.

“It has been a very difficult period,” Mendis said with a childlike grin. “But I’m taking it in the right spirit. Cricket is a very tough sport with plenty of ups and downs. I’ll try to do my best and make a comeback. I’m very confident. I had a very good 2014 where I was amongst the top wicket-takers (ODIs) in the world. But the back injury has really hampered me. Once I start playing cricket again, I’m confident of returning to the national side.”

Having started his career in a rousing fashion where he made the famed Indian batting line-up look silly, Mendis’ Test career has just gone downhill. Totally mysterious when he began with his off-breaks, leg-breaks and the potent carrom ball, Mathews’ effect began to wear down when batsmen started to read him better.

With such an improved technology, batsmen studied him to the detail and instead of wickets, the columns that started to climb were average and strike rate. While accepting that he should have kept re-inventing himself as great bowlers always do, Mendis attributed his loss of form largely due to injury.

“Since the back injury I’ve not been able to bowl to my potential. Whenever I used to bowl the off-spinner, I experienced a lot of pain. I’m not a complete bowler without my off-breaks. ODIs are okay but in Tests you have to bowl a lot of overs. It was very difficult,” said Mendis.

Lavishing praise on Mahela Jayawardene under whose captaincy he made his debut, Mendis said that series against India will always hold special memories in his heart. “Those are nice memories. Really encouraging to bowl to the Indians and take wickets. I just tried to do my best and I’m really happy with the way I played. We had a brilliant captain in Mahela and I received a lot of support from senior players such as Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas. I got a lot of help and support that was needed for someone cutting his teeth in international cricket.

“When I started to play cricket, it was a dream to play against Sachin Tendulkar, let alone take his wicket. I couldn’t do that in the first two matches, but I finally got him in the third match. It was a googly and Sachin was out LBW,” recalled Mendis, his face beaming with happiness.

That happiness today is being replaced by pain, rehabilitation and hope. He sweats it out in the gym, strengthening his body for the future rigours and bowls with the NCC team, trying to get his rhythm back and at the same time add some ammunition.

He intends to play in the upcoming domestic season and despite rising off-spinner Tharindu Kaushal being the talk of the town, Mendis is hopeful of donning the Test cap soon.

“I’ve already played for Sri Lanka and I want to play for the country again. Kaushal is a very good bowler with a lot of potential. He’s doing really well and I feel he’s a better bowler than me. But as I said, I need to rebuild my career and I’m confident of coming back strongly.”

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