Saturday, June 14, 2008

Soldier creating history in International cricket

Gunner Balapuwaduge Ajantha Winslow Mendis (S/158405) of Sri Lanka Artillery created history in the Sri Lanka Army by being the first-ever to enter the National Cricket Team of the country, now played in the West Indies.

Sri Lanka Army Cricket Committee spotted his talents when he played a cricket match against the Army under 23 Division 11 during 2003/2004 tournaments. The Army requested him to join the Regular Force of Sri Lanka Army as there was a dearth of cricketers joining the Army, particularly from Colombo schools. He accepted this offer since his father who was the only bread-winner for the family had already departed them following a heart attack, the week before.

After his basic recruit training he was straight away drafted into the Army Cricket Pool by the Chairman, SL Army cricket. From there onwards he was handled with greater care and guided properly through turbulence. Being a hard working youngster and a quick learner, Mendis was able to cement his place in the Army mainly due to his talents in all three spheres. He was coached initially by Mr Saman Hewawithrana and by Mr Neil Rajapaksha afterwards; both coaches did a good job in guiding him. He has shown a steady progress in all the tournaments organized hitherto by SL Cricket when representing the Army. His first appearance for the Army was in the year 2004/2005 Sara Trophy Tournament where he had mediocre performance. He hit a purple patch in the following year in the same tournament and was awarded with the Best All-Rounder's Trophy by the Sri Lanka Cricket. Incidentally, the Army was promoted to play in the Premier Tournament from the following year onwards. Mendis, to his credit represented the Army in the following tournaments;

Date Match

2004/2005 Sara Trophy Tournament
2004/2005 Sara Limited Over Tournament
2005/2006 Under 23 Division11
2005/2006 Sara Trophy Tournament
2006/2007 Under 23 Division 1 Tournament
2005/2006 Sara Limited Over Tournament
2006/2007 Premier League Tournament
2006/2007 Premier Limited Over Tournament
2006/2007 Premier Promotion/ Relegation Tournament
2007/2008 Under 23 Division 1 tournament
2007/2008 Premier League Tournament
2007/2008 Premier Limited Over Tournament

To-date Mendis has represented the Army in 23 limited over matches and 59 two/three day matches, in which he has 38 wickets and 244 wickets respectively to his credit. Mendis bowls off spin as his stock delivery and he has few more variations in his armory- leg spin, top spin and faster bowl. All this was developed during 2006/2007 domestic seasons on his own. He also extended his purple patch in the domestic season 2007/2008 under 23 division 1 tournament and was later selected to the pool of "Academy Squad" organized by Sri Lanka Cricket. There he was able to polish his cricketing skills further. He had the opportunity of touring neighboring India on an eight-day tour in June 2007 where he was given the opportunity to play two, two-day matches. In the meantime, Sri Lanka Cricket selectors could not ignore his performance in the Premier Limited Over Tournament 2007/2008 and got him selected to play in the "Provincial Tournament 2008" representing "Wayamba Province" under the National Captain. In that tournament he performed exceptionally well with the ball. Local TV commentators predicted him as the ideal replacement for spin wizard Murali in time to come and nick named him as "Mysterious Bowler". His marvelous performance in the said tournament got the National Selectors to observe him further closely. In the just concluded domestic season in Premier League Tournament, he has become the Most Successful Bowler by taking 68 wickets in nine matches which is also a record in any form of domestic cricket. The accomplishments of the Gunner Ajantha Mendis hit the pot of gold by getting himself selected to "National One Day Squad" to tour West Indies in March-April 2008.

Incidentally, this is the first occasion where a member of the Sri Lanka Army was selected to represent the National Team in cricket. Brig (Retd) H.I.K. Fernando had represented Ceylon against visiting English men under the captaincy of Tony Lewis in 1970. He has however represented Ceylon before joining the Army. Chairman SL Army Cricket, Major General V.R. Silva says that he is very proud of this soldier's achievements. In fact when the chairman spotted Mendis' talent he expected him to walk into the National A team this year, but Mendis bringing glory proved that he is good enough to be selected to the National Squad. Chairman's prediction is that he should reach the highest position in the National Cricket Team in the years to come. Commander of the Army and all the members wish him very all the best in the current tour of the West Indies.

Born in March 1985 Mendis hails from a hamlet in Moratuwa. He is the third child in a family of five with an elder brother and a sister. He has had his basic education at St Anthony's College at Kadalana in his village where there were no facilities at all for sports. He subsequently entered Moratuwa Maha Vidyalaya in the year of 2000. During a cricket coaching class, Mendis' talents were initially identified by the school coach named Mr Lucky Rogers back in the year 1998 when he was just 13 years of age. In the year 2000 he represented the school under 15 cricket team and he was selected to the first eleven team. He also deputized for the school team captain. This slow medium bowler with a variation of leg spin was adjudged the Best Bowler at the big-matches twice in 2001 and 2002.

Courtesy: Sri Lanka Army

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