Hambantota: Ajantha Mendis has sounded an alarm to the batsmen in World Twenty20 by recording the best-ever bowling figures in the shortest format of the game.
Mendis took a staggering 6 for 8 as Zimbabwe's batsmen failed miserably to read the mystery finger spinner in Sri Lanka's emphatic 82-run victory in the tournament opener on Tuesday.
After Sri Lanka posted a challenging 182 for 4 on the back of Kumar Sangakkara's 44 off 26 balls and Jeevan Mendis' unbeaten 43, Zimbabwe was bowled out for 100 in 17.3 overs.
Captain Mahela Jayawardene says Mendis showed no ill effect from an eight-month layoff with a back injury, instead bowling with full control like he did in the domestic Sri Lanka Premier League earlier this month.
"Even in the domestic tournament he came back and bowled really well," Jayawardene said. "That was the indicator to see how match fit he was and how much control he had.
"This was his first game in eight months and he was a bit nervous before the game, but he bowled really well."
Last year Mendis recorded 6 for 16 against Australia in Pallekele, Sri Lanka and with Tuesday night's performance he is the only bowler in Twenty20 cricket who has twice taken six wickets in a match.
Mendis started his international career with a bang in 2008 when his variations baffled the strong India batting lineup in the final of the Asia Cup, helping Sri Lanka lift the trophy.
Over time, opposing batsmen began to read his deliveries better. Mendis, who was trumpeted as the successor to the retired Muttiah Muralitharan, found himself behind left-arm spinner Rangana Herath as first-choice spinner in Tests.
That could give Mendis an opportunity to concentrate on ODIs and Twenty20s and become integral part of the team in shorter versions of the game.
None of the Zimbabwe batsmen were comfortable on Tuesday, and Mendis even bowled two maiden overs — a rarity in Twenty20s.
"Ajantha was very keen to get back into the side and we saw that hunger in him," Jayawardene said. "We wanted to make sure that he went through the processes and get his back sorted out, which is why we kept him away for this long."
Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor was stumped off the very first delivery that Mendis bowled at him. "He gives you very little to score off and when you're chasing nine an over you have to go after some bowler," Taylor said. "He was on top of his game and probably caught us off guard a bit. He's very different."
Mendis will face a sterner test on Saturday against a South Africa batting lineup which includes the seasoned Jacques Kallis, A.B. de Villiers and Hashim Amla. "He's comeback strongly and hopefully he'll continue to do the job," Jayawardene said. "I'm sure he'll have bad days but the quality of the player is that he'll have more good days than bad."