Sri Lanka’s fielding coach Steve Rixon has heaped praise on batsman Kusal Mendis after his 84* in the second Test against South Africa sealed an unlikely series win and made light weight of a potentially tricky run-chase.
It’s easy to forget that Mendis, Sri Lanka’s third most experienced player at Test level in the Port Elizabeth Test, is still just 24 years of age. First picked at the highest level after just a handful of first-class games, Mendis has shown occasional flashes of brilliance in his Test career – his maiden Test century, 176 against Australia, prime evidence of that– without quite finding the consistency to match his obvious talent.
Rixon, a former Australia international, believes that Mendis is now in the process of maturing into a player whose reliability is befitting of the class that he naturally exudes. Speaking to ThePapare, Rixon said: “Kusal Mendis will go onto become a classy player in world cricket. He plays some proper cricket shots. I don’t see them played any better in the world. I am seeing bit of class in Mendis. We need to keep him relaxed so the class can come out.
“The kid is only 24 years of age. He needs a lot of mentoring. But you don’t want to take any individuality away from him. The kid has got something special in him. As time goes on, we will see him expand. He is still in the infant stage and has got some self-doubt. But the reality is, he is class. People will see greater things from him as time goes on. The more we see him, the more we are going to say ‘wow’.”
Rixon was also keen to praise Oshada Fernando, whose 75* in just his second Test was another major contributing factor in Sri Lanka’s unexpected win. Rixon said: “The other boy [Fernando] was outstanding as well. I thought he batted beautifully… He has not got baggage to bring. He sees what’s there and reacts. His role was unbelievable.
“He was attacking the spinner from the start. He doesn’t wait for that big one to turn and take the outside edge. Instead, he takes on the spinner. Coming down the track and going over for the spinners was smart cricket. The spinner is then wondering ‘what am I going to do now’. So, he actually took the game away from the South Africans. A spinner on that sort of wicket could have dominated.”
Sri Lanka’s 2-0 victory saw them become the first Asian team to ever win a Test series in South Africa.