Off spinners are a dime a dozen in cricket. Sri Lanka can be proud of the fact that they have produced three of them who have at various times captivated and enchanted fans.
These three bowlers had an air of mystery about them and quite often the batsmen were flummoxed, not knowing which way the ball was going.
Muttiah Muralitharan, the leading spinner in the history of cricket, set the pace and pointed the way – The 800 wickets he took in Tests were phenomenal.
At the London Oval in 1998 he was at his most masterful, claiming seven and nine for figures of 16-220.
The third spinner we are discussing is the youngster Akila Dhananjaya, whose career has been blighted as his action has been called into question on a couple of occasions.
At times, he has produced some magical deliveries, most notably when he castled the current ‘King of the Batsmen’ – Virat Kohli in a 6-54 performance against India in an ODI at Pallekele.
The others he netted were Rohit, KL Rahul, Jadav, Pandya and Axar Patel.
His 6-29 against South Africa at the Premadasa Stadium was statistically better, but the quality of the Indian batting takes precedence.
The second mystery-man (or bogey man, call it what you will) was Balapuwaduge Ajantha Winslow Mendis, a former Moratu Vidyalaya cricketer, who reached cricketing eminence despite playing for the Army team (considered rather unfashionable, as it was not an elite club).
Mendis vaulted over the barriers placed in his way to represent his country in 19 Tests, in the course of which he grabbed 70 wickets.
He captured 6-99 against Bangladesh, a personal best.
Match figures of 10-209 against India were probably more satisfying as they were obtained against a classy batting lineup that included Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar and Lakshman.
He was more successful in the ODI format where he enjoyed stunning success.
His 152 wickets, included a bag of 6-13 against a strong Indian side that had the likes of Shewag, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Irfan Pathan and RP Singh.
Harking back to the 2008 Asia Cup final at Karachchi where Ajantha Mendis worked his magic, Sanath Jayasuriya had catapulted Sri Lanka to a formidable total of 273, batting as only he can.
Mendis took over in mid-innings and weaved his way through that strong line up to dismiss them for 173 and ensure a win by 100 runs.
Coming to the Twenty20 format, Mendis mesmerised Zimbabwe to produce figures of 6 for 8 at Sooriyawewa.
A T20 haul of 6 for 16 against Australia at Pallekele probably takes pride of place, as his scalps were those of Shane Watson, David Warner, Steve Smith, Shaun Marsh, Brad Haddin and Mitchel Johnson.
Mendis exuded mystery in his deliveries as a result of his versatility.
In addition to his stock delivery, the off break, Mendis also ‘threw in’ a leg break, googly, a top spinner, and a carom ball to befuddle opposing batsmen.
Talk of Mendis, the mystery bowler, obscures the prowess he displayed with the bat.
Condemned to bat in the lower reaches of the order, he however, contrived to add 118 for the ninth wicket in a Test against India at the P Sara.
His 78 was his highest in international cricket.
In tandem with Thilan Samaraweera, he put together a partnership of 118 for the ninth wicket.
Mendis’ career spanned from 2008-2015.
He bade farewell to Test cricket after the South African game at the SSC in 2014.
Christchurch in New Zealand was the venue for his last ODI in 2015.
He went wicket-less in his last T20 which was against England in Bangladesh (2014).
Mendis delivered his mysteries off a short, quickish run up.
He cannot be faulted for inaccuracy, as he forced the batsmen to play at him all the time.
Towards the end of his seven-year international career, most batsmen had worked him out and the mystery element had gone missing.
Asela Gunaratne, himself a Sri Lanka player, a close buddy and a teammate in the Army side, gives credit to Mendis for encouraging him and Seekkuge Prasanna to strive for national honours.
Mendis even helped out with equipment when the Army team needed it.
Ajantha Mendis has just received the Level 3 Coaching Certificate.
His ambitions are modest, to be Army’s spin bowling coach, is what he desires.
An exceedingly modest, mild-mannered person, Ajantha is presently a Second Lieutenant in the Sri Lanka Army.
His promotion to the rank of Captain should come shortly.