It is farewell – at least for now – to Jeevan Mendis, after an early-season stint that, while not tearing up the trees and re-writing record books, made him a worthy contributor to the Derbyshire cause.
Few people will have known that much about him when he was engaged. I knew the name, but ‘Mendis’ in Sri Lanka is like ‘Smith’ over here and I could have been confusing him with several others of similar name.
His entry on Cricinfo confirmed a player of nomadic bent, happy to go and turn his arm over wherever required and he did that in the East Midlands, with conditions not really in his favour.
The lot of the leggie in England in the season’s early months is not a happy one. The wickets are slow, damp and more conducive to the Darren Stevens of this world.
Cut your fingers across the seam, get it down on a length and line, then sit back to enjoy the results. Rip it all you like between your fingers, the likelihood is that a ball won’t turn off straight until late on the third afternoon in April and May. There might be a little bounce at times, but sometimes it will be so slow as to not worry first-class players and can sit up, asking to be hit.
Leg spin is the hardest spinning art to master, but also the most enjoyable to watch and complex to face. The real exponents of the art have a range of deliveries and grips designed to bamboozle.
Time was when leggies racked up wickets and ran through tail-enders like a bush fire, most of them simply carving and hoping. Most players can handle a bat now, so the easier pickings aren’t there and you have to work hard to get through nine, ten, jack and disguise the variations.
Mendis finished his stint as leading wicket-taker for Derbyshire, taking thirty wickets in the four-day game and another nine in the RLODC, where he went for five-and-a-half an over.
He often got one at the start of a spell and, while he could bowl the loose ball that is common to the craft, he got a lot right. It was a pleasure to watch him bowl and you could see him thinking through the variants and tossing down a range of deliveries to lure the batsmen to their doom, like sirens on the rocks once did to sailors.
He came with the reputation as an all-rounder, though his technique was largely a decent eye and questionable technique. Too often he edged, leaden-footed, to the slip cordon and he had a peculiar habit, when playing through the leg side, of taking off the bottom hand to the detriment of power and sometimes his wicket.
Yet he won the Falcons the one-day game against Northamptonshire with a bucolic cameo, and his frenetic assault at the end of the second innings against Glamorgan made a difference to the game. Chasing 180 and over 200 are more different psychologically than statistically. A situation where he could just go in and club it was made for Mendis.
He was a good fielder, too, and from his arrival to his departure he kept a broad smile on his face that was to his great credit. There have been some surly and less communicative cricketers in the county game over the years, but Mendis fitted well into a dressing room where much focus is placed on team spirit and he was popular with team mates and supporters alike.
Will he be back? Derbyshire could do much worse, but such decisions rely on winter recruitment and the area of greater need.
I would like to think that for another year the wickets might suit him better, and he will benefit from his first real experience of England. It crossed my mind that he would be a decent T20 signing, if Imran Tahir weren’t already here, but Mendis proved himself a very handy cricketer across the formats.
Consider this: the only other spinners in the country with more than twenty championship wickets are Simon Harmer at Essex (surely the season’s best Kolpak?) and Stephen Parry at Lancashire – both in division one. Mendis, with his haul, sits between the two. That gives a little context and perhaps allows his true worth to be seen.
It is a long time since Derbyshire had a reliable spinner and Mendis, all things considered, did a grand job.
In conclusion – not the best overseas player in Falcons’ colours, as that accolade has stiff competition, but some distance from the worst. He can be proud of his efforts and his attitude and from a supporter’s perspective, he was always worthy of your attention.
At the end of the day, that counts for a lot.
This piece originally appeared on Steve Dolman’s personal website here. It appears on DEC with the author’s permission.