Omitted from Sri Lanka's squads towards the end of 2017, Kusal Mendis has not only recovered his Test form this year, he has also produced two outstanding innings in T20. His 53 off 27 and 70 off 42 were match-defining efforts, as Sri Lanka swept the Bangladesh series 2-0 last month. He was not originally meant to be playing those games; only an injury to Kusal Perera saw him enter the XI.
It was a breakthrough series for Kusal, because T20 had been a format that had previously confounded him. In eight earlier innings, he had hit a high-score of 22 and made double figures only thrice. Yet in Bangladesh, confidence was writ across his innings, as he manufactured innovative leg-side boundaries, played the ramp shot towards third man with abandon, and swept with striking ferocity. Coach Chandika Hathurusingha, who oversaw Kusal's re-entry into the national side, and has seemingly begun to coax the player back to his best, said a clear head was responsible for his return to the runs.
"Kusal's mentality is really good these days," Hathurusingha said. "He knows his game and understands himself better. Our coaches have worked very closely with him, and explained those things to him. He has clarity about what he does now. I think it's the mental state that's the biggest factor in his regaining form."
Such his his recent record, Kusal is a forerunner to open the batting against India in the first match of the Nidahas Trophy on Tuesday. But with so many openers in the squad, there is a crush for top three positions. Danushka Gunathilaka, Upul Tharanga, Kusal Perera and Dananjaya de Silva may all be considered for positions in the top three.
"Yes, we have a few openers," Hathurusingha said. "We will open with whoever we feel will play the best. We'll look at the other teams' strengths and limitations before coming to that decision also."
Although Sri Lanka have recently showed improvement in Bangladesh, their record against India is woeful. India has won the seven most-recent T20s between these sides, and are ranked third in the world, while Sri Lanka are eighth.
"If you go by the rankings, India is the top team in the tournament, so they always start ahead of the other teams," Hathurusingha said. "Whoever plays for India, it is still a very strong team. We have to start well because we haven't been doing well at home. With Bangladesh, because of the last series, we probably have a little edge over them mentally."