KARACHI // India's in-form batsmen will get their first glimpse of the player touted as "the future of spin bowling" in today's Asia Cup final at the National Stadium in Karachi. Sri Lanka's Ajantha Mendis, who has so many different variations that his bowling style does not fit one specific category, is the leading wicket-taker in the Asia Cup.
Having played just three international matches before arriving in Pakistan, that is quite a feat. Furthermore, he has not played in every game: intriguingly, the Sri Lankans withheld the 23-year-old Mendis from their Super Four match against the Indians. The skipper Mahela Jayawardene denied it was part of a masterplan. "We rested them [Mendis and Chaminda Vaas, the veteran seamer who was also absent] because we wanted to rest them," he said plainly, after India beat his side by six wickets on Thursday.
We have heard that one somewhere before. Jayawardene, who has arguably one of the best tactical minds in the international game today, is well-skilled in the art of subterfuge. He and the then-coach Tom Moody rested their star off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, as well as Vaas, for a match against Australia in the latter stages of the Super Eights at the World Cup last year. The thinking was they did not want to afford the Australian batsman batting practice against their best bowlers ahead of a potential final.
It did not work, however. The two teams did meet in the Barbados final, but Ricky Ponting's side picked off Sri Lanka's main bowlers with just as much ease as they had their second string. Yet Australia had seen much of the long-serving Muralitharan over the years. Mahendra Singh Dhoni's side will barely have any video footage of Mendis, let alone seen him in the flesh. Jayawardene is keen to play down expectations on Mendis. "We are not going to put pressure on the guy," added Jaywardene.
"He has shown what he is capable of doing, and we are going to give him the freedom to go out there and enjoy his first final, playing for his country." Sri Lanka are the defending Asia Cup champions, and they are unlikely to give up their title easily. Jayawardene said: "This is a big day for us. We said before the tournament if we want to win it we will have to beat the best. "We had no preference for who we play in the final. Overall, we have been playing good consistent cricket. That is what we are going to take into the final.
"I knew when we came into this tournament that Pakistan and India were two good sides. We knew anyone could beat anyone on their day. "Going by that and the way we have played in the tournament, we are pretty happy with our preparation. "We set ourselves a goal to get into the final. We need to refocus ourselves, and we have an idea of how we want to play in the final." Sri Lanka have won the tournament twice while the Indians have won a maximum four times.