From 2014 U-19 WC to 2023 World Cup, Mendis & Samarawickrama's partnership continues

They together scored 111 runs off just 69 balls to give impetus to Sri Lanka's innings as the Islanders posted a formidable total of 344/9 after opting to bat. 
Kusal Mendi and Sadeera Samarawickrama (Photo | Sri Loganathan Velmurugan)
Kusal Mendi and Sadeera Samarawickrama (Photo | Sri Loganathan Velmurugan)

HYDERABAD: Kusal Mendis was captain while Sadeera Samarawickrama was his deputy when Sri Lanka finished eighth in the 2014 U-19 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. The duo has a lot of similarities as both are right-hand batters and keep wickets. 

A natural talent blessed with sound technique coupled with aggressive instinct, Mendis, however, rose rapidly through the age-group cricket to make his Test debut only at 20. Had it not been for his off-field issues including a road accident wherein a cyclist succumbed to his injuries in hospital and a breach of bio-bubble during Sri Lanka's England tour in 2021, the 28-year-old might have even been made captain of the team given his show with the willow. 

Samarawickrama, on the other hand, had to work hard to make it to the senior team. It eventually happened but almost two years after Mendis' induction into the side. Given the contrasting journeys they had had to the highest level, one cannot help but revisit their past when the two combined to forge a century partnership for Sri Lanka against Pakistan in a World Cup match here at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium, Hyderabad on Monday. They together scored 111 runs off just 69 balls to give impetus to Sri Lanka's innings as the Islanders posted a formidable total of 344/9 after opting to bat. 

Kusal Mendis (Photo | Sri Loganathan Velmurugan)
Kusal Mendis (Photo | Sri Loganathan Velmurugan)

Both scored a century each with Samarawickrama (108 off 89) hitting his maiden ODI ton. For Mendis, it was third and his best ODI score. Mendis' hundred was also the fastest by any Lankan player in the World Cup eclipsing Kumar Sangakkara's 70-ball hundred against England in 2015. Mendis reached the three-figure mark off just 65 balls.

The former Sri Lanka captain was all praise for Mendis as he held him as a special player. "Kusal Mendis was always a special player and seems to be coming into his own. What a hundred. His recent experiences in both international and franchise cricket is showing to be a huge positive. Consistent selection and clarity of style of play also help hugely," Sangakkara posted on X.

Slow to start with, Mendis opened his account with a four of pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi in the third over. Having already lost Kusal Perera the previous over when the opener nicked one to wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan, the boundary brought some relief to the Sri Lanka dug-out. He then joined forces with Pathum Nissanka to stabilise the innings. Mendis took on Shaheen in his next over as he dispatched the pacer's first delivery for a four in front of square and sliced his fifth ball, which was pitched short, over the fielder at third man. As the saying goes, fortune favours the brave, the batter also got a reprieve when Imam-ul-Haq grassed a sitter at backward point with Mendis on 18.

The missed chance cost Pakistan dear as Sri Lanka raced to 90 in 15 overs. Mendis and Nissanka didn't spare anyone as they hit every bowler be it Shaheen or Haris Rauf or Hasan Ali with disdain. They completed a 100-run partnership but Nissanka departed soon after scoring 51 off 61 bringing Samarawickrama to the crease. 

At one end, Mendis continued hammering the bowlers and the best among them was a six of Rauf, currently one of the fastest bowlers in the world. A rib-high short ball angling in but Mendis got into position swiftly before hooking it over midwicket for the maximum. He then hit three back-to-back fours against Shaheen before dispatching Hasan over midwicket for a six. He targeted Hasan in his next over as well slamming him for two consecutive sixes but holed out in the deep mid-wicket while attempting to make it three in a row. It was Imam, guilty of dropping him earlier, who held the catch. In his 124-minute stay at the crease, Mendis smashed 11 fours and six sixes. 

Sri Lanka lost Charith Asalanka soon but Samarawickrama then put his foot on the pedal as the 1996 champions kept disintegrating the famed Pakistan bowling attack so much so that they scored 225 runs between 11 and 40 overs losing only three wickets. Samarawickrama blasted 11 fours and two sixes before being dismissed by Hasan.

The scintillating innings, however, took a toll on Mendis as he suffered cramps and had to be replaced by Dushan Hemantha. “Kusal Mendis was taken to the hospital after the player suffered cramps upon returning from the field after his brilliant knock in the ongoing game vs Pakistan,” the Sri Lanka Cricket board said in a statement.

In the end, the twin centuries were not enough as Pakistan chased down the highest target in the World Cup to register a six-wicket victory. 

With two losses from as many matches, Dasun Shanaka-led side will hope Mendis recovers on time and forges yet another partnership with his under-19 teammate when Sri Lanka meet Australia in Lucknow on October 16.

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