Mendis’ assessment of Sri Lanka’s chances comes from the fact that the pressures created within the team for places amongst the players is bringing out the best from the playing eleven.
“Now, there are even good players who have scored runs out of the squad. In a way it’s good because then only the playing eleven understands that they’ll have to perform if they want to remain in the team. That is pressure. If any individual performs, that’s good for the team,” said Mendis. “We had a problem during the last two years but now, in all three formats, our bench is very, very strong. This is very good for the future.”
“We lost today though, but we were better than before. The batsmen scored 170 plus and the bowlers were trying to defend the total till the last over. I think we had a good start. Even the opposition knows that they’ll have to give 100 percent and with the slightest mistake, the game could be ours. That’s a good feeling because the other team also feels the pressure. If we play the way we played today, we can win,” he said.
However Mendis is aware that losing the first match can bring pressure on the losing side to win the next to keep them in the series.
“Actually there is a pressure for us. If we want to stay in the series, we’ll have to win the next match. But we don’t have to change big things because we did everything right until the last over. There were a few things we missed and we’ll be able to get them right and comeback,” Mendis said.
It was Mendis’ excellent innings which was his career best at the top of the order that gave Sri Lanka a total to defend. Primarily a middle-order batsman he was promoted to open innings and it was his knock that saw Sri Lanka reach 174-4.
“It was the team requirement. (Lasith) Malinga and the selectors told me that we should have a left hand-right hand combination because New Zealand had a left-arm spinner and a right-arm leggie,” explained Mendis of his promotion in the batting order.
“That’s why I was pulled out of No. 4 and asked to open. I was clearly told what my role is and I think I did what I was asked to do. It’s nothing new for me to open because I have opened before and scored many runs. So I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
“I have no problem batting in the first four slots because I have played in all those positions. I was told that I have scored well as an opener and I think they would have thought that I might do something here as well. In a T20I, I like to open. It doesn’t say that I cannot play at No. 4. I have played in that position in Tests and ODIs. But if I can play as an opener in T20Is it would be good for me,” he said.
Mendis’ five half-centuries he has scored so far in T20 Internationals have come as an opener.
Mendis admitted that Sri Lanka made a few mistakes and that is why they were unable to defend their total successfully.
“Our bowlers tried to do their best. There were two wickets in the first two overs but in the middle of the innings, the wicket was settling down a bit more. The dew factor was also there, the dew here is more than in Colombo so the bowlers had some difficulties. Our target was somewhere 170-180 but there were few mistakes also,” said Mendis.
Despite knowing of the dew factor why Sri Lanka chose to bat first Mendis replied, “We don’t have many seniors. If we had to chase down 170 or 180, it would have been difficult for us considering the team we have because we don’t have players to drag others and go for a big total. We don’t have that many experienced players.”
“Also we don’t play many T20 matches other than T20 internationals. So we discussed these matters and thought of going for a big score because we have bowlers like Malinga, Akila Dananjaya and Isuru Udana. They are experienced bowlers and we were looking upto them. Even though there was dew, we thought of playing to our strength.”