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DateLine Tuesday, 12 August 2008

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Mendis marvels to knock Bedser record out

Words fail us in trying to describe the excellent deeds with the ball by Sri Lanka's newest spinning sensation Ajantha Mendis.

On Sunday at the P. Sara Oval, the mercurial lad from Moratuwa who has continued to baffle and bemuse batsmen, specially the Indians once again wove his magic and had the batsmen in a trance.

Imagine Mendis breaking a record that stood for 63 years. He did that also against the Indians, when he claimed the wicket of Sourav Ganguly and then showed that he was on the rampage when he removed Sachin Tendulkar, both going leg before wicket unable to read which way Mendis was going.

After his five wickets in the first innings of the final Test, he had to have another wicket to equal the world record of 23 scalps the England paceman Alec Bedser had against the Indians in 1945. He obtained that and then when he had Tendulkar, he had lowered a 63 year old record.

Now for one who is playing in only his Third Test match isn't that incredible. The unruffled and cool manner in which he goes about bowling when given the ball is amazing to watch.

Skipper Mahela Jayawadena brings him on when the shine is still on the ball, gives him an attacking field and then Mendis gets to work like an artisan and the tumbling of the batsmen are his work of art.

To Bedser and during his time he was the scourge of all opposing batsmen. Sporting England colours, he had the rare ability to move the ball late both ways and had opposing batsmen all at sea.

Mendis is a clever spinner of the ball. Not one batsmen of this tour has been able to play him with any degree of confidence. It is a case of them groping, not knowing which way the ball will go and trusting in luck without any confidents strokeplay.

IF the way he is going is an indication, then he is sure to rewrite many more records. He has to be nurtured and nursed with the greatest of care for his good and the good of the game.

P. Sara Oval

It was a wonderful sight that greeted me when I walked into the P. Sara Stadium in Wanathamulla on the morning of the Third and Final Test between Sri Lanka and India on Friday.

I was visiting my first club the Tamil Union after a few years and the transformation that I saw was unbelievable.

Many a change has been in the pavilion and the surroundings for the spectators have also been improved and every one could expect fine comfort when taking in the action out in the middle.

As a tender cricketer I had taken in a lot of the Colombo Oval as it was then known from the newspapers. My first sight was as a 15 year old when coaches Edward Kelart, Francis Casiechetty and Prefect of Games A. Gnanapragasam took the Benedictine team of 1957 with Lovellyn Rayen as captain for a practice session.

It was like Alice being in wonderland. I stood again to take in the first sights of this beautiful Oval and its imposing scoreboard that saw some of the cricketing greats such as the lord of cricket Sir Donald Bradman, the terrible Ws - Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott, Keith Miller, Neil Harvey, Lindsay Hassett and many others had shown their prowess, including the great Mahadevan Sathasivam and Ivers Gunasekera of Sri Lanka.

As a schoolboy I had the honour of playing with Sathasivam when the marvel returned from his stint in Malaysia. Even to walk alongside the great man was an honour.

I made my way to the imposing media box and having been to almost all Test playing countries I can vouch for the fact that this can hold its own against the best in the world. Good that it has airconditioned comfort.

While chatting with Ranjit Fernando, the former Benedictine and team mate who was my wicket-keeper and now TV Commentator, in walked in one of my captains at the Tamil Union Chandra Schaffter, who told "Fernando I have come here to ask Elmo how he found his way in here". I got the message.

Now 'Schaffie' was one of the finest guys you could meet as a young cricketer. As captain he was always inspiration and encouragement and didn't I learn from him.

A medium fast bowler he had an action that could be termed poetry in motion. And in batting he was a sixer hitting batsman. Now he is the godfather of the TU and its ground and little wonder than that it is now a work of art. Schaffie is now adopting the TU and the ground like one of his own children. And the future is assured.

What the Oval now needs is more Test and other international matches. More cricket and more innovations would be the order on this ground that everyone says should have had the headquarters of the game here. But sadly it is not.

The Sathi Coomaraswamy Stand and the Mahadevan Sathasivam Stand are excellent monuments to these two gentlemen cricketers who did so much for the club and Sri Lanka cricket. There is the Dr. Rayan Chanmugam, T. Murugesar and Tryphon Mirando stands.

In 1960/61 when TU won the 'Daily News' trophy under Rex Breckenbrige. I won the Best Bowler's award.

When Sri Lanka attained Test status and the First Inaugural Test between England and Sri Lanka was played here in 1982, hopes ran high that this venue would retain its importance and that more Tests would be the order.

But sadly something went wrong somewhere and it was indeed a crime that this wonderful venue was allowed into the limbo of the forgotten.

But now with the former Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga taking over the reins at the Interim Committee, the P. Sara Oval has come back into the picture and we and all cricket fans hope that this tradition will continue.

The other day the Tamil Union, owners of the ground hosted a cocktail party to all local and foreign journalists and showed them around and explained.

Addressing the invitees, the president of the club C. T. A. Schaffter thanked the chairman of IC SLC Ranatunga for inviting Tamil Union to host a Test match and mentioned that after the inaugural Test, sadly the Oval was neglected by SLC for reason unknown and Tamil Union is grateful to the chairman Ranatunga for this kind gesture towards the club.

Lest we hurt someone by not mentioning his name, we say well done to the TU for showing their ability and skills in excellently conducting the final Test between Sri Lanka and India leaving nothing to chance.



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