Kusal Mendis the dasher turns into Thilan Samaraweera clone

Kusal Mendis didn’t quite manage the double ton he had hoped to score as a leaving present for batting coach Thilan Samaraweera, but he did get something else after the innings in Wellington: the label of Samaraweera clone.

After making a hundred on day four, Mendis had thanked Samaraweera for helping him out of a substantial batting rut over the last few months, and said that he hoped to make double-century for Samaraweera on day five. As only 12 overs of play were possible on Wednesday, Mendis could only get himself to 141 not out. However, in having batted dourly during the afternoon and evening sessions on day four, the naturally attacking Mendis had inspired his team-mates to label him the new Samaraweera – the most obdurate from among Sri Lanka’s former greats.

“After the match yesterday everyone was having a bit of fun telling Mendis that he was batting like Thilan Samaraweera,” captain Dinesh Chandimal revealed after Sri Lanka had drawn the match. “He works really closely with Thilan on his batting, and we were just making fun of the way he’d played.”

The gag is that Mendis had had to completely overturn his batting style in order to produce the kind of innings that he did in Wellington. Though the two are close, Mendis as a batsman is generally an unrepentant strokemaker, completely unlike Samaraweera, who had been a batting boulder – unmoving and, at his best, immoveable.

Team-mates especially enjoyed Mendis’ blocking, leaving and ducking in the final session of day four – a period in which he scored only 18 runs off 80 balls.

“We’re really happy with Mendis, because this innings was very different from the normal knocks he plays,” Chandimal said. “Right through it was very different.

“We should especially mention that at tea yesterday, he had 98 runs, and at the end of the day, after batting 31 overs and playing out a whole session, he had only made it to 116. You look at that and you really see he played for the team. It’s a really valuable century, and it’s one that he had to go away from his natural style to produce.”

Chandimal, who had spent seven hours padded up as the next batsman in on Tuesday, was also overjoyed with the performance of Angelo Mathews – the senior-most batsman in the side. Mathews finished on 120 not out, off 323 deliveries. Unlike Mendis, who had enjoyed brief flurries of scoring in the first sessions of days four and five, Mathews stonewalled for virtually the entirety of his innings. He was rewarded with his first century of the year, having failed to convert five fifties into triple figures across his eight previous innings.

“When Angelo got out in the first innings for 83, I had a chat with him and he said: ‘Yeah, I missed a century. Again I have to go from zero to get a century from here,” Chandimal said. “He has a lot of courage and he has a lot of concentration when he’s batting. He’s one of the most experienced players we have in our line-up. If he’s scoring, that gives us a lot of confidence going forward. I’m extremely happy with the way he played.

“The most important thing about both their innings was that they were playing for the team. That’s the most important thing.”

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