Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 2013 : Kusal Mendis in another match-winning role | Sunday Observer

Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 2013 : Kusal Mendis in another match-winning role

Kusal Mendis
Kusal Mendis

Yet another former Observer Schoolboy Cricketer has made Sri Lanka proud with an explosive half century. When Bangladesh made a commanding 193 for 5 in 20 overs in Thursday’s first T20 International in Dhaka, it appeared to be a daunting task for Sri Lanka.

But when Sri Lanka got that dream start they had been looking for, the visitors ultimately found it easy to reach the target with 20 balls to spare for the loss of only four wickets.

The architect of Sri Lanka’s convincing six-wicket victory was none other than that of dashing opener Kusal Mendis who showed no mercy to Bangladesh attack. He simply massacred Bangladesh bowlers with a blistering knock of 53 runs off just 27 balls, maintaining a stunning strike rate of 196.29.

Man of the Match Mendis, who hit two massive sixers and eight boundaries, added 53 runs for the first wicket with Danushka Gunathilaka off only 29 balls.

Their epic alliance eased the pressure on Sri Lanka’s middle order, though the visitors lost three wickets with the addition of only 37 runs. Foundation laid the explosive start given by Mendis and Gunathilaka, Sri Lanka reached the target in style through an unfinished fifth wicket partnership of 65 runs between Thisara Perera and Dasun Shanaka.

Mendis has lavishly contributed with his willow during his school career at Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa.

His rich harvests during the 2012/13 season earned him the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title in 2013.

He became only the second Cambrian to win the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year the Award after Sahan Wijeratne who was judged as the winner in 2002. From his early days as a Cambrian cricket star, many had identified him to be future Sri Lanka material.

Winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title is widely regarded as an unofficial passage towards the national team and Mendis is yet another cricketer who had proved that this common belief among schoolboy cricketers is right. Within a couple of years after his crowning glory at the Mega Show, Mendis was picked to make his Test debut - against the West Indies at Premadasa Stadium on October 22, 2015.

A reliable wicket keeper and consistent right-hand top order batsman with an attacking style, Mendis has often posed trouble to many opponents.

Merely months after winning the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title five years ago, he was appointed Sri Lanka’s under-19 captain for the Youth World Cup.

He made his Sri Lanka ODI debut with a sparkling half century 51 off 59 balls with eight boundaries in Sri Lanka’s first ODI against Ireland in Dublin on June 16, 2016. Since then, Mendis has represented Sri Lanka in 44 ODIs to aggregate a total of 1,239 runs for an average of 30.97.

He has one century and 11 fifties to his credit with a career best knock of 102.

In 24 Tests, Mendis has aggregated 1,712 runs with four centuries and five fifties.

He was the top scorer for Sri Lanka in the first innings in the recent second Test against Bangladesh in Dhaka - a superb innings of 68 made off 98 balls that eventually guided Sri Lanka to a match-winning first innings lead.

Mendis’ emergence was a blessing to the national team at a time the national selectors had been looking for a top order batsman. The first three batting positions are important to any team as the roles of openers and one drop batsman could make a big impact towards a team total and the morale of the middle and lower order batsmen.

In the 1990s, it was 1985 Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, Asanka Gurusinha who shouldered this great responsibility at No. 3 and provided that much needed stability and reliability to the Sri Lanka team. After Gurusinha returned from Australia to serve as Cricket Manager of the Sri Lanka team, we saw another Observer-Mobitel Cricketer of the Year Award winner emerging to serve in that pivotal one down slot in the Lankan batting order.

Since winning the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title in 2013, he has proved his credentials to fit into that vital No.3 position which fell vacant after the retirement of veteran Kumar Sangakkara.

The biggest moment in Mendis’ short but impressive Test career so far was witnessed last year when he made a marathon knock of 194 in the first Test against Bangladesh in Galle.

He missed what would have been a dream double century by unsuccessfully attempting to signal it with a six. His superb knock included four sixers and 19 boundaries.

Occupying the crease for more than seven hours and facing 285 balls, Mendis showed qualities of a mature Test batsman, although it was only in his 15th Test. He became only the third Sri Lankan to aggregate over 1,000 Test runs before completing 23 years of age, behind Arjuna Ranatunga and Mahela Jayawardene. Speaking after his title glory in 2013, Mendis said the Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer of The Year Award is a “launching pad” for his future cricket career. In less than five years after winning the title, Mendis has proved this right beyond reasonable doubt.

Speaking further after winning that dream title, Mendis went on to pay a generous tribute to the organizers of the show the Sunday Observer and Mobitel, stating that the contest was a tower of strength for young schoolboy cricketers.

“There are several past winners who had gone to represent the country. That shows how valuable the contest is for the budding cricketers. The contest has been boosted further with the introduction of the third segment which will undoubtedly help the outstation cricketers enormously. The talented players outside Colombo could be identified better and that augurs well for a better tomorrow. Besides the main awards, there are many other segments in the competition that has been won. These sections too, help the youngsters in their future cricket career”, he was quoted as saying.

We should see more from young Mendis’ willow in the years to come and his contribution towards the national team is just harbingers of what an Observer-Mobitel Schoolboy Cricketer is capable of achieving!