Tony Becca, Contributor
THE SECOND one-day international between the West Indies and Sri Lanka was played in Port of Spain yesterday, and as a West Indian, I would love if it ended in the West Indies favour.
As one who loves cricket, however, as one who enjoys the game because of what it offers - the level of skill involved, the drama, the excitement and the unpredictability of the game, it does not matter what the result was, providing it was like the first one, at the same venue, on Thursday.
Sri Lanka were on the skids at 49 for five before recovering to 208 for five on their way to 235 for nine off the allotted 50 overs. Then, the West Indies were on 109 for one before falling to 110 for four on their way to 219 for nine and then to 236 for nine at the end of 50 overs.
As far as the drama, the excitement and the unpredictability of the game were concerned it was a classic. Sri Lanka were looking dead and buried before Chamara Silva and Chamara Kapugedera breathed some life into them with a sixth-wicket partnership of 159. The West Indies were going well before losing three wickets for one run. Then, with the West Indies looking down the barrel with 10 runs to win off the last two deliveries of the match, with the usually deadly Chaminda Vaas bowling them, Shivnarine Chanderpaul blasted one to the long-off boundary and one over the mid-wicket boundary to put a final punctutation point on a game full of swings in fortune.
A great contest
It was a great contest, I will remember it for a long time and, in spite of the 21-year-old Kapugedera's batting during his innings of 95, in spite of Vaas' bowling during his first spell of eight overs during which he conceded a miserly 11 runs, I will remember it mainly because of Chanderpaul's batting and my first sight of Ajantha Mendis - a spin bowler extraordinaire.
Ever since his debut, Chander-paul has demonstrated a feel for the occasion and because of that, sometimes, as it was against Australia in the Test match at Bourda in 2003 when he blasted 100 runs off 69 deliveries, he can be deadly while ripping opposing attacks to ribbons. And sometimes, when things are not going well for the West Indies as it was in England last summer, he can be defensive and as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar.
In 2002, in the fifth and final one-day international against New Zealand at Arnos Vale in St. Vincent, Chanderpaul, returning from the hospital after suffering an injury to his left-arm, went to bat, and with the West Indies needing 13 runs from the last four balls to win the match and the series, the left-hander struck the first three deliveries from pacer Daryl Tuffey to the boundary and, but for the invading crowd, the last one would have gone to the boundary also.
On Thursday, after taking his time gathering his runs, after being involved in the run out of Dwayne Bravo, he delivered again by smashing the last two deliveries to the boundary - one all along the ground for four and one over Mahela Jayawardene's head and over the boundary for six.
An unforgettable sound
I will never forget the sound of bat hitting ball and the sight of the ball as it sailed away.
A 23-year-old right-arm spin bowler, Mendis is one of Sri Lanka's young and promising cricketers - one of those who Sri Lanka believe will become a star.
To me, however, he is more than that. Regardless of his performance yesterday, to me Mendis is a budding genius and one destined to be a star.
Mendis bowls everything.
With a smile on his face as he caresses the ball before delivering it, Mendis bowls the off-break, he bowls the leg-break, he bowls the googly, he bowls the flipper, he bowls a straight delivery, he bowls them with different grips and different actions, he bowls them with a different trajectory and at a different pace, he disguises them brilliantly. The result is that he mesmerises, or bamboozles, batsmen - as he did Chris Gayle and Daren Sammy on Thursday.
With the batsman groping forward, Mendis trapped Gayle leg before wicket just when the big right-hander appeared ready to open up. Then he bowled Sammy off-stump - the batsman, looking shocked and confused, playing beside a straight delivery after pushing forward and missing one that spun into the right-hander and one that spun away from him.
A bowler like Mendis is unusual - no question about that. However, he did not just drop out of the sky as, according to coach Trevor Bayliss, "we just told him to go out and do what he has been doing all the time".
According to captain Jay-awardene, Mendis has always possessed special skills and Sri Lanka have been keeping an eye on him. He has only recently started to control where he pitches the ball and they are now looking ahead with great expectations.
It is only a pity that the West Indies do not possess one like him - or rather, it is only a pity that West Indies cricket does not encourage spin bowlers much more one with skills similar to those of Mendis.