Friday, July 18, 2008

Mendis again

The Blog article on Ajantha Mendis has been republished in The Post. Link here

Just in case, the link gets diverted after archival, re-carrying contents:

In the late 1990s, when this author used to be a teen, a catchy slogan that was splashed on the television screen was 'Normal is Boring'. Featuring the cartoon character, Fido-Dido, the adage was used to convey that being 'freaky' was not to be scorned but to be encouraged. Watching Ajantha Mendis bowl recently in the Asia Cup cricket tournament reminded one of the slogan immediately. Mendis is the new Fido-Dido of otherwise mechanical and 'playing to the norm' story of cricket.

His 6-13 performance against India in the Asia Cup was, to tell the truth, no surprise for this author. I had watched his debut game on TV against the West Indies and was as much bamboozled with his art as much as the batsmen in the game were. It was only a matter of time that the bewilderment was to be infected by other players facing him, and India was at the brunt of the Mendis attack in the game.

So far, Mendis has not yet played Test cricket. He is expected to make his debut against India in the upcoming Test series. But the relatively small sample of One Day cricket and a single T20 match is enough to whet the appetite of the gluttonous connoisseurs of the 'art of cricket'. An assortment of what spin is all about is what Mendis is all about. He can turn the ball from the off to the leg (the off-spinner); he can deliver the same with the wrist (the googly); he can tweak his off-spinning hand to flick the ball from mid to outside off (the doosra), he can bowl the conventional leg-spinner and most devastating of all, he can make the ball hit the turf and rear up with an extra co-efficient of restitution (the top spinner). He is in essence a catch-all spinner, except not much of him is caught by the batsman facing his onslaught of variety. The greatest attribute he has is the ability to keep his line and length simple, i.e. 'plonk' in the area right in front of the stumps. And all that with his nimble fingers and subtle movements of the wrist, that act in close co-ordination with a courageous mind that takes on all batsmen - accomplished or not - as surefire prey for his spinning hunt.

The off-spinner is more or less conventionally delivered, but the doosra retains nearly the same configuration of fingers and wrist, but is delivered with a flick of the middle finger. The googly brings in the wrist more into action, with the ball shifted to the thumb and index finger for emphasis, while the top spinner follows the same co-ordination principle of the doosra, except that the middle finger is replaced by the index finger for emphasis. The delivery which is flicked by the middle finger to create the discombobulation in flight and on hitting the deck is what has been termed the 'carrom ball'. In essence, the variety is controlled by a co-ordination of fingers, wrist and a nimble mind constantly trying to out-think the willow wielding opponent. Technical aspects apart, the simple sophistication of this newcomer is a whiff of fresh air to the art of cricket, ravaged as it is by the takeover of the brutal and the mechanic, both of which adjectives are the rage of the T20 dominated cricketing hour. No doubt, as Mendis flits about playing his inscrutable art, he will be the object of scrutiny. Recorders, video players and laptops would be dissecting his flavour of delivery and the conventions of mechanics would soon be trying to overcome the mystery of his art. Science therefore would be hitting out at art and deciphering the laws of his difference and batting machines will be tuned to overcoming the gap between comprehension and mystification. That possibility is always there.

But what differentiates Mendis from the rest of the freak-shows of the past (Saqlain Mushtaq discovered the doosra but forgot that he was an off-spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan's birth defect makes his spinning skill a permanent one-off) is that his freakishness is all encompassing. How much ever batsmen master his top spin, they would still have to contend with trying to find the difference in a split second between his doosra and his off-spin and if they did that, they would still have to handle the variation between his googly and his leg-spin. There is enough hope for Mendis to keep prospering as the examination that he has set for the batsmen with his ability is much tougher than the tests of the past freak-shows. That is his biggest advantage as a prospect for the future: his ability to set a paradigm shift in the art of spin bowling. A little peering into the backpages of cricket history would reveal that there was indeed one other practitioner of the 'carrom ball' art, Australian bowler, Jack Iverson. However, his career was short but at the same time, highly effective. One expects that Mendis' career on the other hand, should be a long and tortuous one for the batsmen facing him.Here is wishing him the best of fortitude and resilience in keeping his art show intact. We need the Fido-Dido of international cricket to continue to resist the tendency to 'normalise' and 'standardise' the sport and keep proving the freakish adage, "Normal is boring" right.

1 comment:

Ranjith said...

Srini,

In an interesting discussion
here in cricinfo
, they ask the question:

"How do such unorthodox cricketers develop? What is it in their learning environment that persuades them to defy traditional methods?"

And many of participants seem to imply that the lack of over-coaching is what the helping factor in the development of such unorthodox cricketers.

Do you know if that is true in the case of Mendis ?

If he has already mastered such a wide range of deliveries, i guess, it is likely to be a well thought out and properly coached bowling innovation -- In that sense it could be properly coached unlike these guys suggest.

Any thoughts ?