Ajantha Mendis burst onto the scene with 26 wickets at home in three Test matches in his debut series against India in 2008. But the Sri Lankan off-spinner has played only another 15 Tests over the next six years and has scalped just 70 wickets. After spending a year on the sidelines, Mendis is back in the Sri Lanka team for the Asia Cup and has picked up seven wickets in two matches. In an interview with The Indian Express, he spoke about his travails and revival. Excerpts:
You have been bowling well in the Asia Cup as well as in the bilateral series against Bangladesh. Is there anything specific that you are doing to revive your career?
No, not really. I’m the same bowler. Last year I was out with an injury. I have been focusing on doing the basics right after my return.
What sort of injury was that?
I had a back injury — a disc problem. Now it’s okay.
For how long you were out of the game, and did you have an operation?
I was out for one year. Thankfully, surgery was not required. I went to Australia for treatment and rehab and now I’m fit and fine.
You made a spectacular entry to international cricket, then there was the dip. You were eventually omitted from the Sri Lankan team. How did you handle the difficult period?
I spent extra hours in the nets. I worked hard to get my basics right. I knew I had the ability to return to the fold again. It was important to get my rhythm back and I feel, now I’m bowling with the right rhythm. I’m more confident now.
So did you find it much tougher after your mystery deliveries were unraveled?
In these days of bowling coaches and video analysts, you can’t retain your surprise element for too long. You have to add variations to outwit the batters. You learn from your experience and try to become a better cricketer. I’m working hard to be the best I can.
Did you turn to anyone for advice to get things right?
I sought help from the bowling coaches and my team mates. I also sought advice from Muttiah Muralitharan.
What was Muralitharan’s advice?
He told me to strengthen my basics and concentrate on line and length, and not experiment much.
Now that you are fully fit, you must be very keen to make up for lost time?
The target is to cement my place in the Test side as well. I love Test cricket and want to become a regular.
You were supposed to carry forward Muralitharan’s legacy. Was that too big a pressure?
Don’t think there was ever any pressure on me. A cricketer’s job is to do his best for his team and I always try to do that. Of course I want to be the No.1 player in the national team.
Coming to the Asia Cup, your take on the final against Pakistan.
We’ve been playing well and they, too, are doing well in both in batting and bowling. But I think we have a few tricks up our sleeve.
Any special plans for Shahid Afridi?
Nothing special. We will see that day.
But Afridi is ripping apart the spinners and we’ve very short boundaries here?
Yeah, short boundaries are a problem but I will try to attack Afridi. If we take his wicket early.
Do you consider Sri Lanka as the favourites for the final?
No. They (Pakistan), too, are doing well. It would be pretty even.
Not many Sri Lankan players were picked for the IPL. You were overlooked as well. Are you disappointed?
No, not disappointed. Actually we’ve an England tour and can’t play all the IPL matches.