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Mystery spinners crack Twenty20 code

Sri Lanka's Ajantha Mendis bowls during a practice session ahead of their first Super Eight match against New Zealand in Pallekele September
Sri Lanka's Ajantha Mendis bowls during a practice session ahead of their first Super Eight match against New Zealand in Pallekele September

By Shihar Aneez

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Modern bats and the crash-bang format of 20-over cricket may suggest otherwise but Ajantha Mendis and fellow practitioners of unorthodox spin bowling have proved they are not in the World Twenty20 just to play cannon-fodder.

Field restrictions and the batsman's freedom stemming from the format's brevity make 20-over cricket indubitably the most batsman-biased of the game's three formats.

Denied the luxury of close-in fielders, spinners often retreat into a defensive shell, sacrificing flight to embrace the safer method of darting flat and faster deliveries for a possible dot ball.

However, the likes of Mendis, Saeed Ajmal and Sunil Narine have proved in the ongoing World Twenty20 that they not only possess the craft to escape any batting carnage but can actually emerge as genuine match-winners.

Mendis has returned from a back problem to bowl all five variations, including the "carrom ball", which he flicks using his middle finger, to be Sri Lanka's best bowler in the tournament claiming nine wickets from four matches.

Off-spinner Ajmal has played the same role for Pakistan, grabbing eight wickets from five matches, using his 'doosra' - the delivery which spins the other way - to bamboozle batsmen.

Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene insisted both Mendis and Ajmal are much more than just mystery spinners.

"Those guys are playing for five-six years. So I don't know whether there is enough mystery (left) in it. Lot of the guys have played them," Jayawardene told reporters on Wednesday.

"You have to give them credit, they've been two quality spinners. People have analysed them and seen videos of them. But all these guys are quality spinners. They have got some talent and they have been showcasing that."

So has been West Indies off-spinner Narine whose bag of tricks makes the 24-year-old tweaker from Trinidad quite a handful in the sub-continent.

"Sunil is our trump card, he's done well for us in that format," West Indies captain Darren Sammy said.

"In Sri Lankan conditions if he's got assistance he will be a handful."

(Writing by Amlan Chakraborty; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

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