Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Final Frontier: Not as elusive as it seems

35 years without a win is a long time in sport. After Bill Lawry’s team conquered India 3-1 in 1969-70, Australia had to wait until late-2004 when Adam Gilchrist’s men broke the drought and conquered what Steve Waugh termed the “Final Frontier” with a 2-1 win.

These two statistics are well known to most watchers of Australian cricket, and are often cited to illustrate the difficulty of conquering the subcontinent. From the sheer magnitude of the timescale, it’s easy to feel that some kind of Herculean team and performance is required to win. After all, it’s unfathomable to comprehend Australia or England not winning an Ashes series on foreign soil for over three decades.

However, the irregular scheduling of Test matches in yesteryear has caused a statistical imbalance of matches that has falsely magnified Australia’s inability to win in India. Whereas the Future Tours Programme now stipulates that every country should play a home and away series against every other team in a cycle of five years, this has not always been the case.

In the 35 years between Lawry and Gilchrist, Australia played only 16 Tests in India. In the last 36 years, Australia have played 55 Tests on English soil, yielding four times as many opportunities withing the same timespan. Going 18 Tests without a series win is what happened on the Australian campaigns of England in 1977, 1980, 1981 and 1985. When Allan Border’s men won in 1989, 14 years after Australia’s last series win in the Old Dart, the triumph was not regarded as one that had transcended generations of struggle, unlike the Final Frontier of India. The Final Frontier defied Australia for two fewer Tests, but the fact that the 16 Tests were spread over an extra 21 years made the drought appear rather paleolithic.

The statistical count of Australia’s performances in the 16 Tests-two wins and seven losses-paints a misleadingly poor picture of Australia’s ability in India. Since Lawry’s conquest, Australia toured India five times until it won again, in 1979-80, 1986-87, 1996 (a one-off Test), 1997-98 and 2000-01. Only in the last decade has Australia toured regularly. Prior to that, they toured twice in 27 years, and those two sides were in no way representative of that period of Australian cricket.

From January 1971, when Ian Chappell became captain, until 1984-85, when Allan Border was thrust into the top job amid Kim Hughes’ tearful resignation, Australian cricket was generally in two disparate modes. Under the leadership of the Chappell brothers, Australia was successful, but when they were absent, the green and gold were regularly blown away.

After suffering a loss in his first Test as captain-the last match of the 1970-71 Ashes-Ian Chappell ensured that Australia never lost a series under his watch. After five years at the helm, Chappell handed the reins to his younger brother, having recorded three wins for every defeat and re-established Australia as the premier team in world cricket.

Greg Chappell continued where his elder brother left off, crushing the West Indies 5-1 on home soil in 1975-76. Australia continued to win more than it lost, before the wheels came off amid the most dramatic upheaval in the history of modern cricket. Long-simmering resentment over meagre renumerations resulted in the majority of the Australian team signing with Kerry Packer’s rebel World Series Cricket. The news broke during the 1977 tour of England, breaking the team into loyalist and rebel factions. Clashes between the players and management reportedly bordered on violence and it was announced that the WSC players would be banned.

With almost all of their first-choice players gone, Australia drafted the 41-year-old and retired Bob Simpson to lead the team against an Indian touring side untouched by WSC. India had previously played nine Tests on Australia soil, losing eight and never tasting victory. The depleted Australians managed only to scrape home 3-2, an ample demonstration of how badly the defections had bitten. The hosts were lucky to avoid a 5-0 whitewash, winning their matches by two wickets and 16 and 47 runs respectively, while India’s wins comprehensively secured by 222 runs and an innings respectively.

The Australians were soon exposed, however, losing eight of their next 13 Tests. During this time, Simpson was replaced by Graham Yallop and then Kim Hughes. Hughes then took Australia on a six-Test tour of India, their first since Lawry’s triumph ten years earlier. Australia rarely troubled the hosts and were flattered by a 2-0 loss, cushioned by rain-affected draws. It was part of a 19-Test run that yielded only three wins.

Immediately afterwards, the WSC players resumed their places in a reunified Test team following a rapprochement. Highlighting the weakness of the establishment team, only four of Hughes’ Indian tourists pulled on the baggy green during the summer. Under the younger Chappell, Australia again won more Tests than it lost, but when Hughes led the team during Chappell’s self-imposed breaks, the situation was reversed. Hughes had the worst winning percentage among Australian captains who have led for more than six matches, winning only four from 28.

At the end of the 1983-84 season, Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh all retired. Australia had lost the world-record holders for most Test wickets and wicket-keeping dismissals, and its finest batsman. Thereafter, Australia went on a unprecedented barren run, playing eight series without success, totalling 33 Tests with only three wins and 14 losses. Nine of the defeats were dreadful maulings by an innings or ten wickets. It was without doubt the weakest side in Australian history.

In 1985-86, amidst the calamitous run, Australia were exceedingly lucky to deny India a maiden series win in Australia. The tourists took first innings leads of over 130 in each of the three Tests; in the Second Test, rain curtailed the final day’s play with India 67 runs from victory. In the Third Test, Australia were six down and still in the red when time ran out, having being forced to follow on.

The following year, the much-maligned Australians toured India. Border’s nondescript men took an 147-run first innings lead in Madras, but were unable to ram home the advantage, and the match ended with the second tie in Test history. The series remained deadlocked 0-0 after a washout and a dead pitch in the last two Tests.

After this, Australia did not play another Test in India for ten years, when Mark Taylor’s side lost a one-off match in late-1996 to inaugurate the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. During this period, Simpson became Australia’s coach and they broke through to win the 1987 World Cup. The Test team gradually improved, and after winning 4-0 in England in 1989, they became consistently successful once more, vying with the West Indies for supremacy before regaining the Frank Worrell Trophy in 1995.

Thus, in the 27 years after Lawry, Australia were usually in the top two or three countries except the two years of WSC, and roughly six years following the triple retirements of Chappell, Marsh and Lillee, when they were shambolic amid extreme circumstances. But the two tours of India during this time coincided with these two dark periods, being entirely unrepresentative of Australian cricket over this period. From 1970 until the mid-1980s, Australia’s most prominent players were the Chappells, Marsh, Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Allan Border. All bar Thomson are inductees of the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame. However, due to the WSC interregnum and the mass retirements in the early 1980s, only Border toured India at all from 1970 to 1987. Imagine a team without its two best pacemen, two best batsmen and wicket-keeper. Imagine how Australia would have done in India without McGrath, Gillespie, Gilchrist, Hayden and Steve Waugh. As this year’s comprehensive 0-2 defeat showed, they would probably have been beaten comprehensively.

Since then, Australia has played in India with teams more representative of its general strength. In 1998, Taylor’s men returned to India as the world’s leading team. However, they were met by Sachin Tendulkar, who was at the peak of his powers and comprehensively dismantled Warne.

Australia took a 71-run first innings lead in the First Test in Chennai, before Tendulkar bludgeoned an unbeaten 155 in the second innings to leave the tourists looking to survive on the final day. Hindered by several umpiring decisions that prompted Wisden to say “three decisions were harsh and the fourth dubious”, Australia fell to a 179-run defeat. The hosts then sealed the series by slaughtering Australia by an innings at Eden Gardens. They amassed 5/633 while Australia managed only 414 in two innings. Australia then took the final Test by eight wickets. Tendulkar scored 446 runs at 111.50 in leading the way for the hosts. The loss was Australia’s only series defeat under the five years of Mark Taylor’s captaincy, aside from a 1-0 defeat in Pakistan when Australia lost by a single wicket.

Australia returned in 2001, confident that it could conquer the Final Frontier. Steve Waugh had developed Taylor’s world-leading team into a ruthless unit that had secured 15 consecutive Test victories. Anticipation was rife that this would be Australia’s breakthrough. They extended their run to 16 with a crushing 10-wicket win in the First Test in Mumbai. When they took a 274-run first innings lead and enforced the follow-on after India had insipidly folded for 171, it appeared that the Final Frontier would collapse in a landslide. However, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid batted for the entirety of the fourth day in a legendary partnership of 376, before Harbhajan Singh bowled India to a dramatic final-day win. It was only the third time that a team had won a Test after being forced to follow-on. Heading into the Third Test in Chennai, Australia were in a good position at 3/340 before Harbhajan terminated the innings at 391. India then took a 110-run lead and required 155 for victory in the final chase. After a late collapse, they stumbled home by two wickets, with Harbhajan striking the winning runs.

Victory was so close yet felt so far away. Taylor and Waugh presided over times of plenty for Australia, but were never to win in India. That the loss in India stood out among their multitude of wins elsewhere magnified the aura of elusiveness. When juxtaposed with Australia’s other victories, it had everyone concluding that to win in India required performances that transcended generations.

But they were highly competitive and had their chances in all but the Calcutta slaughter of 1998. In 1998, Tendulkar played a dominant role, and in 2001, Harbhajan took 32 wickets at 17, series-winning performances that can rarely be repeated. Coupled with Laxman and Dravid’s once-in-a-generation partnership, Harbhajan ensured that Australia lost a match that was seemingly unloseable. Without it, Australia could conceivably have swept the series 3-0. How many other times has a team won a Test series when their second most successful bowler has collected only three wickets? How many times can a team score in such a manner on a fourth day Calcutta turner? It was a truly remarkable Indian performance that denied Australia for three more years.

Yet Australia had won 3-0 at home just over a year earlier. This disparity between the scorelines exacerbated the impression that winning in India was like a sprinter trying to win on Alpe d’Huez or Asafa Powell running in a marathon. However, had Australia scored just 20 more runs in Chennai in 2001, it could have been 2-1 and the perception would be vividly different.

The breakthrough finally came in 2004-05. After easily winning the First Test by 217 runs, Australia were on the back foot in the Second Test in Chennai. India needed 229 to level the series, but a monsoonal downpour washed out the final day. After Sourav Ganguly mysteriously withdrew prior to the Third Test, the leaderless Indians were crushed by 342 runs and Gilchrist had conquered the Final Frontier.

Although 35 years appears an eternity, the breakthrough came after four series defeats, which in regular scheduling would occur across a 16 year period. Of these failures, the first was primarily due to the decimation of WSC, while the second was during a genuinely bleak period following a generational changeover. A quarter century of players never had a meaningful chance to conquer India. It was only 28 years after Lawry that Australia had their next real chance in a full series, and after two narrow series losses, they broke through. Under Ian or Greg Chappell, or Allan Border in the early 1990s, Australia would have mounted a strong challenge, but these men never had an opportunity. Given the amount invested into computer analysis in modern cricket, it’s astounding that so many people imagine an Australian victory in India as an Everest. While the players have a motivation to do this in order to colour their performance in a brighter light, it is hard to comprehend how independent commentators can come to the same conclusion.

And so to this year’s tour, which Australia lost 0-2. After appearing set for substantial lead in the First Test in Bangalore, some stubborn rearguard batting saw India to safety with relative ease. Apart from that, Australia rarely looked like getting the necessary 20 wickets for any reasonable cost needed for victory. This has led to substantial fears about Australia’s future prospects.

In the aftermath, many have optimistically pointed to the fact that Australia went 35 years without winning in India, so therefore it is no disgrace for Ponting’s men. These people point to the case of Steve Waugh, who otherwise reigned over a period of domination that was unprecedented in the history of cricket. The loss in India was a mere interruption in this domination, so they argue that other losses will be similarly anomalous. The observation about Waugh is correct, but his team was highly competitive. Australia only had four series in India during the winless period. Taylor’s men were competitive, and Waugh was not far from whitewashing India had things gone his way, before Gilchrist broke through. Ponting’s campaign resembled 1979-80 and 1986-87 in that Australia struggled to find any openings. As Hughes’ team were depleted by defections, the only time Australia looked so placid in India was during the nadir of the mid-1980s.

It’s incorrect to disregard the result as anomaly due to the disparity in playing conditions, as during this period, Australia struggled to beat touring Indian sides notorious for their utter impotence on foreign soil. The WSC-depleted team won 3-2 in Australia, but all three wins were nailbiters, while the two Indian triumphs were comprehensive. The two series in the 1980s were both drawn, with India having substantially the better of the play in the latter.

This doesn’t mean that Australia will hit rock bottom like the mid-1980s, as India are a lot stronger than they were in the 1980s and beating them is more difficult. But it does show that results in India aren’t as much of an outlier as is commonly presumed. Being competitive and winning in India has been a real prospect for any good Australian team, and had every good Australian team had a chance to play in India, the Final Frontier would not have lasted 35 years.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Short-course thinking

Swimming Australia’s decision, in conjunction with its new broadcast partner Ten, to compress the 2009 Australian Swimming Championships from eight into six days of competition, is a risky move.

Like the United States, Australia traditionally holds the national titles over the same eight-day schedule as the Olympics and the World Championships. This allows the swimmers to test themselves under the conditions that they will face on the global stage.

The powers that be cited marketability as the reason for the change, hoping that a more condensed campaign would enhance sales and advertising for the national titles and focus more attention on the marquee races and key battles. However, this myopic planning risks doing far more harm than good to the cause of Australian swimming.

In terms of spectators and television viewing, swimming is not major sport in Australia. It only receives prominent media coverage twice a year, the Australian trials and the subsequent major international competition for the year. Apart from
the handful of athletes who manage the lofty feats of winning gold on the global arena, Australia’s swimmers are generally incognito among the wider public. Earlier in the year, the Australian Championships were held in a predominantly empty stadium, watched mainly by the athletes’ inner circle-their family and close friends. The television interest was similarly poor, as the public was demonstrably only interested when the Dolphins landed in Beijing to compete for the green and gold.

It is folly to assume that the public would be better able to maintain their interest in the trials if the races were crammed into a shorter window. If hardly anyone is interested in the first place, as is manifestly and unfortunately the case, then there is no interest to maintain. The most anticipated races at the trials will be the women’s sprint freestyle events, featuring Libby Trickett, Cate Campbell and Jodie Henry, and the 100 m butterfly, featuring Trickett and Jessicah Schipper. The other events are either David vs Goliath mismatches, or involve swimmers who lack the profile to attract the attention of the general public.

In the United States, collegiate swimmers compete regularly in NCAA competition, allowing them many opportunities to hone their racecraft not only against American swimmers, but many leading international swimmers who train under the university system. No analogous series of competition exist in Australia, nor is there the same depth of competition. All the more reason to make the most of every opportunity to race, especially considering that some of Australia’s swimmers have had dubious track records where racecraft is concerned.

Heading into the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Australia was ranked #1 in eight events, but went away with only two golds. Michael Klim missed the final of the 200 m freestyle after trying to conserve energy in the heats; Scott Goodman was ranked first in the 200 m butterfly but was visibly nervous and came third. In 2000, five golds were netted when eight or nine were expected. More recently, Leisel Jones’ pre-2005 inability to reproduce her fastest times in finals have been well documented, while Libby Trickett broke the 100 m freestyle world record at both the 2004 and 2008 Olympic trials only to find herself unable to find similar speed at the Olympics; she was twice eliminated in the semifinals but was given a reprieve in Beijing due to another swimmer’s disqualification for a false start. After his defeat to Alain Bernard in the 100 m freestyle, Eamon Sullivan rued having swum Bernard’s race, rather than his own.

As one does in practice, so one does in competition, and the trials are not only a competition in its own right, it is a dress rehearsal for a global competition. The swimmers can trial their program and see if it is manageable with the given scheduling. Based on the results, alterations can be made to allow for better performance on the world stage. However, by trialling in different conditions, there will be a greater element of guesswork required.

No Formula One team would go and test and setup their car at Albert Park, and then turn up in Italy and use the same configuration at Monza. So upon arriving in Monza, they would have to tinker before getting the correct setup. The same applies here. By simulating at home what one will confront in future, a more effective preparation results.

By condensing the program, swimmers attempting to qualify in multiple events will be disadvantaged by smaller recovery times. This is likely to encourage swimmers to drop events they perceive to be weaknesses to shore up selection in pet events as scheduling clashes become more prevalent. Only a few swimmers of brilliant calibre such as Michael Phelps can swim multiple finals and semifinals in one session effectively. This will result in Australia’s stronger swimmers being underemployed once they arrive in Rome for the World Championships, facing longer rest periods between races that no longer clash.

By not giving Australia’s athletes the best chance to win in an attempt to harness short-term gain, swimming stands to lose much more. The hoopla surrounding Ian Thorpe’s remarkable feat at age 14 in becoming the youngest male to gain selection for Australia was microscopic in comparison to the media frenzy that erupted when Thorpe made the most of his selection and became the youngest male to become world champion. Scores of lucrative sponsorship deals resulted. A more recent illustration is that of Australian swimming’s glamour couple, Stephanie Rice and Eamon Sullivan. Both broke two world records at the trials, which, coupled with their tabloid-fodder status, made them targets for underwear endorsements. However, when it came to Beijing, Sullivan was set two world records in the relay lead-off and semifinals, but was narrowly toppled in the final. On the other hand, Rice triumphed in to double gold in the individual medley, setting world records in both. On the surface, the difference between two gold and one silver is stark. But below the surface, there was little difference in the quality of the performances, as Rice had scraped home by a slender 0.15% in each race. But the difference in the ramifications could not have been starker. Rice carried the flag at the closing ceremony and became the darling of Australia, swamped by a multitude of media and sponsorship deals, whereas Sullivan was largely forgotten. To add to the impact it has on the public psyche, international success also determines the amount of government funding that is awarded.

The imagery generated by gold medals inspire the next generation of champions to take up the sport. Without exception, the current golden girls in Australia’s dominant women’s team cite Susie O’Neill and Sam Riley as their role models. It’s inevitable that the next generation will similarly be inspired by the likes of Rice, thereby driving an expansion in the sport. But such catalytic triumphs don’t come easily in the fierce world of competitive swimming, with a razor-thin margin separating champions and also-rans. Australia’s athletes need as much help as they can get, and the decision to place the marketability of the selection trials won’t do their hard work the justice it deserves. In the end, swimming in Australia stands to incur a greater penalty if their performance is hit.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ajantha Mendis: Hopefully not the second coming of Jack Iverson

Sri Lanka's Ajantha Mendis, who was recently named by the ICC as the Emerging Player of the Year, has put the cricket world in a spin lately. Amid the first decade of the 21st century, when batting averages and totals have steadily increased as pacemen such as Donald, Ambrose, Waqar, Wasim, McGrath, Pollock and Walsh have all departed, it has been a welcome change. With quality spinners also becoming a endangered species due to the proliferation of roped boundaries, better bats, more powerplays and Twenty20, Mendis was a timely arrival, particularly as the most decorated spinners of our time, Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble are about to head into the sunset.

Since making his international debut earlier this year, Mendis has taken 33 ODI wickets in 13 matches at an average of an average of 10.81. In addition to all this, his best performance a demolition of India in the final of the Asia Cup, taking 6/13 against a batting arsenal famed for its ability to demolish spinners. He then proceeded to make his Test debut in Sri Lanka's home series against India and proceeded to flummox the Indian batsmen, particularly the famed middle order. He took 26 wickets at 18, and was promptly named man of the series.

With his wide repertoire, most notably his carrom ball, Mendis has bamboozled many batsmen and is a major leading force behind Sri Lanka's recent triumphs. His signature delivery was pioneered by Jack Iverson (bowling grip pictured), an Australian spinner who quickly shot to fame in the Ashes of 1950-51 against England, terrorising the batsmen for a season before disappearing from first-class cricket in the following year and eventually committing suicide after suffering depression.

Richie Benaud, the doyen of commentators, once said
"There have been plenty of spin bowlers around for more than a hundred years but the four, for me, who have broken the mould and made batsmen think seriously about what was coming down the pitch at them, have been Bernard Bosanquet, Jack Iverson, John Gleeson and Shane Warne."

Mendis can now be added to the list, and hopefully for the sake of cricket, he stays around a lot longer than Iverson.

Like Mendis, Iverson experienced more a more arduous upbringing than most. His father was
austere and strict towards the younger Iverson and expected his son to be self-reliant. He was sent away to board and when he finished school, he did not work in his father's real estate firm, as many businesspeople would do with their children. Instead, Iverson headed alone into the unforgiving Australian desert, tending to livestock. Eventually, with the outbreak of World War II, Iverson enlisted in the armed forces and was deployed to what is now Papua New Guinea. There he began experimenting with bowling during recreation matches with other soldiers; his prior experience was playing in a few school matches more than a decade earlier under the leadership of Lindsay Hassett, who later captained him for Australia.

Mendis had the family responsibility thrust on him at the age of 18 in different circumstances, when his father died of a heart attack. He was spotted during a match against a Sri Lankan Army team, and in order to support his family, he enlisted and played cricket for the military. As with Iverson, Mendis also saw active duty.

Upon their emergence into first-class cricket, both players made quick progress with seemingly few impediments, routinely despatching an assemblyline of outclassed batsmen who were unable to comprehend what was heading towards them. Iverson made his first-class debut for Victoria in 1949-50. With the national side touring South Africa, it was the opportunity for a new crop of players back in Australia to push for selection. Iverson was the top wicket-taker in the Sheffield Shield season, with 46 scalps at 16.6 in just seven matches. He was duly selected for an Australian Second XI tour of New Zealand where he proceeded to claim his victims at an astounding average of 7!

The following season, Iverson made his Test debut in the Ashes series of 1950-51. His first Test wicket was that of Trevor Bailey, a middle-order batsman known for his dour and sturdy defensive style. Bailey once batted for more than seven hours in a Test for just 68 runs, earning himself the sobriquet of "barnacle". Likewise, Mendis made his international debut in his second year of first-class cricket. His maiden Test wicket was Rahul Dravid, penetrating the famed defence of a player known as "The Wall" with a carrom ball that broke through bat and pad. By the end of their debut series, both players topped the wicket-taking lists and played a pivotal role in their teams' series wins, with Iverson taking 21 wickets at 15.

As the saying goes, you learns more about a champion when he is staring defeat in the face than when he raising his fist in triumph.

In their first two seasons, neither players were strenuously tested by opposition batsmen, having taken all before them. A successful spinner needs a big heart to survive the onslaughts of aggressive batsmen; unlike a fast bowler, he cannot intimidate his opponents with bouncers, but must outmanoevre them.

However, Iverson was put under the microscope during the season by some of his Australian teammates. When Iverson bowled either in the nets or on the field for Australia, Hassett, the captain of both Victoria and Australia, would forbid New South Wales players from viewing his action, hoping to keep them in the dark so as to maintain an advantage in clashes between the Sheffield Shield heavyweights. Hassett achieved this by banning them from batting against Iverson in the nets, and when Iverson bowled in Tests, he put the New South Wales members of the Test team behind the bowling arm. He would move Keith Miller, the New South Wales allrounder, from a position in slips, to mid-on or mid-off. This irritated the New South Welshmen, but Hassett was unmoved.

As it was, the two state heavyweights-who at the time had a virtual duopoly on Australian cricket-met in the middle of the Test season, with both at full strength with their Test players. The New South Wales batsmen, led by Keith Miller and Arthur Morris, began to unravel Iverson's secrets and launched a strong attack which demoralised him and went a long way towards winning the match and breaking Iverson's aura. The pair launched a withering burst, propelling New South Wales to 459 from 93 overs, a rapid rate of scoring for a first-class match even by modern standards, especially as Victoria's three other frontline bowlers-Ian Johnson, Bill Johnston and Doug Ring-were all Test players and members of Bradman's Invincibles. Iverson was the most effective and economical on the day, with 3/108 from 28 overs, but for the standards he was used to, it was quite rough treatment.

During the subsequent ODI series in Sri Lanka, India bounced back after their Test series defeat and their humiliation in the Asia Cup to claim the series 3-2. During the five ODIs, India managed to score more reasonably against Mendis in a couple of matches. India's most assured batsmen against Mendis were Virender Sehwag and MS Dhoni. Morris was an attacking opener and part-time spinner like Sehwag, while Miller was a mighty hitter with a distinctive mane and was the object of much female adulation, like Dhoni. All four were the senior batsmen in their respective teams.

The fragile Iverson began to doubt his ability. In the last two Tests against England, he took only five wickets. In each of the next two seasons, Iverson made himself largely unavailable, feeling himself unready for first-class competition. He played in only one and two first-class matches respectively in each of the two seasons. After that, he toured India with a Commonwealth XI in 1953-54 before retiring.

Despite his loss of confidence, Iverson was still largely unconquered by batsmen, ending with a career bowling average lower than 20; his average in the last three demoralised seasons was 24.61, hardly poor at all. He still had a lot to offer to the cricket world, as evidenced by the 17 wickets at 18 that he took in three unofficial Tests during the tour of India, but sadly, he felt otherwise and disappeared from the scene. Affected by depression, Iverson took his life at the age of 58.

In the modern era, Mendis faces a different set of circumstances. With the proliferation of video technology and super slow motion cameras filming the action from all angles, batsmen will have more assistance in decoding Mendis' techniques. As a result, Mendis will need to hone the subtleties in his repertoire and rely more on his mental powers to overcome the batsmen. Unlike Warne and Muralitharan, Iverson and Mendis did not face grave challenges from batsmen before establishing themselves at international level. As a result, they did not need to grow such a thick skin before they had found their way to international success. As everyone knows, cricket is played mostly between the ears. Unhappily, Iverson was mentally unable to withstand the effects from the few aggressive batsmen who had unlocked his secrets. For Mendis, how he deals with batsmen who have decoded his secrets is yet to be seen.

Luckily for Mendis, in the modern era, unlike in Iverson's time, there is no shortage of psychologists and other support staff for elite cricketers. Hopefully the parallels between Mendis and Iverson don't carry through to their cricketing demises. In this batting-dominated era of cricket, it would be a great shame if Mendis was but an Iversonesque shooting star.