x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Unorthodox Sri Lankans are used to late adjustments

During an impromptu meeting of a group of English cricket coaches at Lord's this week, the merits of Sri Lanka's bowling attack were assessed.

During an impromptu meeting of a group of English cricket coaches at Lord's this week, the merits of Sri Lanka's bowling attack were assessed. Not surprisingly, they were all agreed on the fact Ajantha Mendis, Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga can all bowl a bit. Would they have ever made it through the English system, though? Unlikely.

The unorthodox bowling of the trio of match-winners might have been coached out of them under other systems. Yet in Sri Lanka, they have thrived. "We fine-tune these guys only at the end, we just let them come through," said their former captain, the in-form batsman Mahela Jayawardene. Mendis, whose mystery spin still cannot be adequately categorised, has taken the sport by storm since his debut on the international stage last year. He can bowl off-spinners, leg spin and a "carrom ball" that resembles the faster one, all with the same action.

Until then he had been playing for the Army team in the second tier competition in Colombo. There was little chance of his tricks becoming over-exposed, and even some of his illustrious teammates have been embarrassed by him. "In the nets we try to read him but he still gets us out sometimes," said Jayawardene, who oversaw Mendis's elevation to the international game. "There are too many things that come out of his fingers, it is hard to keep up. He is something special. When Ajantha came to the academy he didn't have too much control but we set a plan for him to develop and within six months he found his range and he was fine."

Mendis will face his toughest test in the competition so far when the Sri Lankans meet the West Indies at the Oval, which has lived up to its reputation as a batsman's paradise, in tomorrow's semi-final. "When we came to England we knew we would be playing at three different venues," added Jayawardene. "We knew we would have to adjust to different conditions. "We have changed our team accordingly so far, so we'll plan things out. We've seen how the wickets play there and what the par scores are, so these guys will go and enjoy it.

"Murali will turn it on anything and Ajantha is confident and sticks to his plan. We have a really good bowling unit anywhere." To make matters worse, Malinga has continued to consistently deliver his toe-crushing yorkers from his slinging arm that comes from behind the umpire's head. A place in the final would be a boon to a side who have had to cope with a series of protests wherever they have played after UK-based Sri Lankans were angry over the political situation back in their homeland.

Jayawardene said: "We set ourselves goals to get through... now we're in the semis and we have two more goals - to get to the final and then win it. "We need to concentrate on those two goals. People back home must be crazy about it, but they love their cricket and they are always behind us."