Osman Samiuddin
Mendis in the Asia Cup final
This was the beauty of it, of cricket and cricketers in the subcontinent. A young guy, very much his own guy, little heard of, coming out on a big stage and torpedoing a giant. Even if Ajantha Mendis never bowled another ball or got another wicket, his six-for would stand as tribute, a most beautiful tribute in fact, to the art and joy of this region's cricket. It doesn't matter if it is a fleeting thing - often that enhances it - for in that moment, or prolonged moment, you are ++++ed in and taken along on a ride where nothing makes sense but everything makes you smile and makes the hair on your body stand up. Cricket becomes an experience, a very visceral experience, and not a sport, to be sensed, even touched, but above all to be felt. These bouts are difficult to explain. The National Stadium in Karachi had been a graveyard for the bowlers. Three hundred was the new 240. Two seventy-four was thus a gettable thing, and with Virender Sehwag in flow and India 76 for 1 in the 10th over, it threatened to be a miniscule total. Mendis - rested in the group game against India - came on, Sehwag charged a straight, wide one, missed, and was stumped. Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma also missed straight balls; they expected something to happen with that strange grip and yet nothing really did. Suddenly India were all out for 173. These things happen in such a sudden burst of flair.
There was about the whole spell, a very Pakistani air - something a Waqar or Wasim could do, but more pertinently something a guy like Mohammad Zahid from Gaggu Mandi, who only his parents had heard of, could do. Stuart Broad took a superb five-fer against South Africa last summer but it was all so pristine, so sanitised: straight-up swing; nice, coached upright action; edges to slip; boy who has worked his way through a structure.
This was nothing like it, because it induced in India a very visible panic and in everyone else the purest thrill, from a guy nobody knew much about. Fielders suddenly become more alert, batsmen more incompetent, balls turning who knows which way, and that is the joy of cricket surely, at its absolute base level: in a team game, one man changing the mood of a match, of entire countries, in a trice, just like that, as you or I might turn on a switch. Indeed, the best was that until the very end, nobody could say for sure that someone like Mahendra Singh Dhoni - an equal of Mendis in unorthodoxy - wouldn't do what Mendis had just done and switch it all back. Ajantha Mendis, long may he live and bowl; the glory of this region's cricket, long may it flourish.