Till their last group game, against Jamaica Tallawahs, Barbados Tridents were hardly the favourites to clinch the table-top position and, therefore gain a direct entry into the final of the 2014 Caribbean Premier League. They won though, by a mammoth 88 runs, with Kieron Pollard, the captain, leading the way with the bat and Jason Holder, Ravi Rampaul and Jeevan Mendis doing the needful with the ball.
And while Rampaul is right on top of the wicket-takers’ list for the tournament with 18 scalps to his name, Mendis, since being drafted in as Shakib Al Hasan’s replacement, has been as stingy as they come, with an economy rate of 5.73 from eight games. With the bat, he hasn’t quite been a Shakib, but has been a decent replacement for the banned Bangladeshi on the whole.
“I have to thank Polly (Pollard, the Barbados captain) for the opportunity. He plugged for me when Shakib left even though I am not in my national team,” Mendis told Wisden India over the phone from Basseterre in St Kitts on Friday (August 15), the eve of Barbados’s final against Denesh Ramdin’s Guyana Amazon Warriors.
“I need to play as much as I can, stay in the game, perform well and hopefully get back to the national team. I hope the national selectors are watching. This is one of the biggest events in the world apart from the IPL (Indian Premier League), so … it’s good competitive cricket.”
For the longest time, it seemed as though one of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago Red Steel would get direct entry into the final and Barbados would be one of three teams fighting it out in the ‘semifinals’. “No one expected Barbados to come to the final. We have done it. Polly has been leading the way as the captain,” he explained. “He has been encouraging us to bunch together as one group and we have done that. We didn’t start well, but we have done so well after that and a lot of players have chipped in and done well.
“Polly trusts me as his main spinner. That gives me a lot of confidence. Polly has been using me to keep things tight and give him wickets, so it has been better for me.
“When you play T20, every over is important. You can’t lose many overs in a game. Everyone expected T&T and Jamaica to do well because they have great players. But we have done well as a unit. We have won more overs. We have helped each other to do well.”
Interestingly, like it has been the trend in the IPL, spinners have, on the whole, done better than expected at the CPL too. Including Sunil Narine, who seems incapable of doing anything but brilliantly in Twenty20 cricket wherever he plays, the top six in the list of bowlers with the most economical figures in this year’s tournament is made up of Samuel Badree, Daniel Vettori, Mohammad Hafeez, Nikita Miller and Mendis.
“The ball doesn’t always come on to the bat. So spinners who can hold the ball back are doing well,” pointed out Mendis. “If you have good variations and can spin the ball well, you often do well. I think you need to spin the ball – that comes first. Variations come after that. The batsman needs to see that you can spin the ball and then you need to show the batsman that you can vary the speed and the length and bowl different balls. Then he will be wary of hitting through the line of the ball and be careful about stepping out.”
Back in Sri Lanka, of course, Mahela Jayawardene’s retirement is all the talk at the moment. “I have been playing with Mahela since he was the captain. He’s the best captain I have played under, a very genuine man, someone you can trust,” said Mendis. “It was an honour to play with him. He has been a great cricketer for Sri Lanka. We will miss him, but cricket will go on, and someone will replace him. I hope he will be involved in Sri Lankan cricket in the future too. That would be good for us.”
And Mendis was full of praise for Angelo Mathews, the new Sri Lanka captain, too, saying that the time Mathews has spent interning under Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara has stood him in good stead. “Angelo has been playing for six years or so now. He has got a lot of help from Mahela and Kumar, and he has done well consistently for the last three years. He is a cool guy and can handle pressure really well,” said Mendis about the man he will play under if he gets picked in the Sri Lankan team anytime soon.
“I don’t know what’s the reason (for not being selected in the national team). I’ve been playing regularly and doing well. Selectors have their own thoughts. They must have their own ideas about what they want. But I am doing well, so hopefully I will get a chance soon,” he said after a bit of thought.
“It’s a good advantage for me to have done well in the CPL this time. I will probably get more chances in the CPL in the future too, and hopefully in the IPL (where he has represented Delhi Daredevils in the past). I need to perform with the ball and bat. I am an allrounder, so I need to do both things well consistently. And then hope for the best.”
Mendis would, of course, like to be there, with the national team, taking on Pakistan, who play three One-Day Internationals at the end of the ongoing second Test of the two-Test series that Sri Lanka are leading 1-0. For the moment though, it’s about adding to his CV, adding to his numbers, all in the hope of adding to the 39 ODIs and 16 T20Is he has played so far, the last of which came over a year ago.