I first saw Kusal Mendis play when he made his debut against the West Indies late last year. He did not have a special debut but from whatever little I had seen about this young man convinced me that he would go on to represent Sri Lanka for a long time in all the three formats of the game. Crisp straight drives, steely flicks, venomous cut and a free flowing youthful technique made him a joy to watch.
He occupied the vital number 3 spot left vacant by one of the all time test greats, Kumar Sangakkara and has left his own indelible mark by first playing a couple of attractive innings on the recently concluded tour of England. Lahiru Thirimanne, another young man with oodles of talent but one who has failed to make the cut at the highest level made way for the young Kusal and he has grabbed his opportunity with both hands.
On a treacherous Pallekele pitch which afforded assistance to both the spinners and the quick bowlers, playing against the number one ranked team in test cricket and facing bowlers like Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon, this 21 year old batsman played the innings of a lifetime as he lifted Sri Lanka from a precarious position to power them to a huge score. Considering that the Lankan first innings ended at a meagre 117 followed by 203 by Australia in their first dig and Lanka managed 177 (without Mendis's contribution of 176) and finally Australia in the last innings who were bowled out for just 161 - Kusal's 176 stands out like a beacon amidst havoc all around. He showed tremendous self confidence and assurance during his stay and got his runs at a fair clip. Yes, there was some luck involved here and there but on a pitch such as the one that the match was being panned out on, that is expected.
He reached his hundred with a slog swept six off the Aussie number one spinner, Nathan Lyon and did not celebrate like he had brought the house down. Measured and focused, he held his arms aloft and got back to doing his job again. The numerous post match interviews that followed displayed the same calm demeanour, and that was, for me, the hallmark of a great in the making. We see young men today celebrate like there is no tomorrow even after reaching a small milestone and here was this 21 year old kid having just led his team to a monumental victory displaying extreme maturity after having played one of the best test innings ever.
I hope that he can carry on from here and go strength to strength and delight cricket fans all over with his fluid technique and crisp strokes. At a time when Sri Lanka are struggling to find their feet as they cope with a slew of retirements of their all time greats, young men like Mendis and Sandakan must bring a smile to the Lankan supporters on whom the onus now lies to carry forward the legacy of the tiny island!