PORT OF SPAIN, April 11 Sri Lanka's success in recent years has been built on the outstanding spin bowling of Muttiah Muralitharan and now they appear to have produced another slow-bowling talent capable of befuddling opposition batsmen for years to come.
Ajantha Mendis took three wickets on his international debut, a last-ball defeat by West Indies at the Queen's Park Oval on Thursday, and he showed his full repertoire of deliveries.
Mendis produced offbreaks, legbreaks, googlies, top-spinners and flippers, often in the same over as he lived up to a reputation gained through his impressive figures in Sri Lankan first class cricket.
In 19 matches the 23-year-old has claimed 111 wickets at an average of 14.54, all that against batsmen well used to facing all manner of spin bowling.
"We have told him that all he has got to do is go out and do what he has done in the past," said Sri Lanka coach Trevor Bayliss.
"Whatever has worked for him in the past, at whatever level that same thing can work for him at the next level," he added.
"It was a pretty good debut effort. He could have a long period in the game," he said.
On Thursday Mendis claimed his debut wicket when he trapped West Indies skipper Chris Gayle lbw with a top spinner and then bowled Darren Sammy with a similar, well disguised straight ball.
He then kept his cool to have Jerome Taylor caught in the deep a ball after the West Indian had thumped him for six.
But perhaps more impressive than his wickets was the way in which he clearly had experienced international batsmen such as Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul struggling to work out exactly what was being floated down towards them.
"To be honest when we saw his stats we knew he obviously had to be bowling something good," said West Indies all-rounder Dwayne Bravo.
"Sarwan had trouble picking him and from that point most of the batters went inside (to watch television) to watch his hand closely.
"I actually went and had a look at him on the computer to see exactly what he was doing. It is difficult to pick him but once you watch him closely, he is a bit slow through the air so you have time to adjust," he said.
"He bowls five or six different balls in an over with a different action, you just have to concentrate on the ball that is coming in and forget about the other four," said Bravo.
Bayliss was not surprised by the range of deliveries produced by Mendis but he was impressed by the way he handled his Sri Lanka debut.
"The poise he showed on his debut, it was not just what he was bowling but also being able to keep a lid on that pressure and do what he does normally, to deal with the pressure of international cricket like that was a good sign," he said.
Mendis will face inevitable comparisons with Muralitharan, the test cricket's top wicket-taker, but Bayliss is looking forward to seeing them operating in tandem.
"Maybe one day, not too far down the line, we might have those two bowling together. But let's not take anything away from (Malinga) Bandera, our leg spinner -- on a wicket in the sub continent who knows, we might play three spinners," he said.
(Editing by Clare Lovell)
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