Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mendis joins South Australia for Twenty20

Australia's state cricketers are in for a rapid lesson in handling world-class spin after Sri Lanka's mystery tweaker Ajantha Mendis signed for South Australia in next season's Twenty20 competition. But the Redbacks players will be equally tested on the field with the news that Victoria are close to securing Mendis' record-holding team-mate Muttiah Muralitharan.

Mendis was South Australia's No. 1 target and his success in confusing Australia's top batsmen in the World Twenty20 only enhanced his reputation. Part of his power is the mystery nature of his deliveries but his manager Roshan Abeysinghe hoped that in the shortest format Mendis would not give away too many of his secrets.

"The mystery can be found out anyway with technology but it can't be mastered like facing him in a match," Abeysinghe told Cricinfo. "We are concerned about it. We don't want him to be overexposed at any cost but maybe the Twenty20 is fine, where he can only bowl four overs at the most."

Part of the attraction for Mendis was the chance to gain experience in unfamiliar conditions. Although Adelaide is one of the more spin-friendly surfaces in Australia, it will be a vast change from the subcontinental pitches on which Mendis has played most of his cricket.

"He is very excited at the opportunity because it's extra exposure for him and a learning opportunity to bowl on Australian tracks," Abeysinghe said. "He hasn't played in Australia so it will be a great opportunity and a chance to learn a different style because he has played a lot of cricket on the subcontinent."

Like his Sri Lankan colleague Lasith Malinga, who has agreed to play for Tasmania, Mendis' participation is dependent on Sri Lanka's schedule being clear when the Big Bash is held. Jamie Cox, South Australia's high-performance manager, said Mendis would be a terrific addition to the Redbacks.

"Mendis is a proven Twenty20 player famous for his unique bowling style that routinely confounds batsmen," Cox said. "With three home games and one in Sydney and with the importance of quality slow bowling highlighted at the recent World Twenty20, we believe this gives our playing group a massive boost in their quest to qualify for the Champions League."

Mendis follows Malinga and the West Indians Chris Gayle (Western Australia) and Dwayne Bravo (Victoria) in joining the Australian domestic scene for the Twenty20 tournament. Each state is allowed to sign two international players and Victoria are keen on Muralitharan, whose manager Kushil Gunasekera said a deal was likely to be struck.

"It is a matter of fine-tuning some of the terms and conditions," Gunasekera said. "Both parties have mutually consented that they would go ahead and make this contract materialise but the contract has not been signed yet. It looks like it will happen. Cricket Victoria is interested in Murali and Murali is keen to play for them."

The prospect of Muralitharan returning to Melbourne, where he was no-balled for throwing 14 years ago, is an intriguing one. Gunasekera said Muralitharan was looking forward to the possibility of heading back to the MCG to erase the negative memories and believed his presence would help Australia's disappointing spin situation.

"It would be really good for him to go back to Australia and play cricket for Victoria and erase the past," Gunasekera said. "Unless you have forgotten the past you can never look ahead to a brighter future.

"I'm sure it would work well for him and Australia both. It might well add Murali's expertise in resurrecting some of the spin bowling in Australia. That will also work well for them. It might create a lot of goodwill by Murali going back to Victoria to play cricket there."

New South Wales have expressed their interest in attracting the Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara for the Big Bash, while Queensland are believed to be using their former player and current West Indies batsman Brendan Nash to sound out potential signings from the Caribbean. The teams have until Christmas Eve to confirm their Twenty20 lists.

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