'He is class' – Steve Rixon is 'wowed' by Kusal Mendis
Mendis helped Sri Lanka seal their first-ever Test series win in South Africa with an unbeaten 84 in the second innings of the second Test in Port Elizabeth and shared a vital 163-run third-wicket stand to help the team ease to their target of 197 runs.
"Going out there with a clean head helped [Mendis]," Rixon was quoted as saying by ThePapare. "Kusal Mendis will go on to become a classy player in world cricket. He plays some proper cricket shots. I don't see them played any better in the world ... We need to keep him relaxed so the class can come out."
Mendis' rise to prominence came with his innings of 176 against Australia in Pallekele in 2016, when he not only helped Sri Lanka recover from a first-innings deficit but also gave the team a match-winning lead after they were bowled out for 117 in the first innings.
And while his Test batting average of 36.65 is still middling, the 24-year-old, who has hit five Test centuries since that knock against Australia, has plenty of time on his hands to boost his numbers.
"The kid is only 24 years of age. He needs a lot of mentoring. But you don't want to take any individuality away from him," Rixon said. "The kid has got something special in him. As time goes on, we will see him expand.
"He is still in the infant stage and has got some self-doubt. But the reality is, he is class. People will see greater things from him as time goes on. The more we see him, the more we are going to say 'wow'."
Giving Mendis company at Port Elizabeth was Oshada Fernando who scored a fluent 75* and hit the winning runs. It was his maiden half-century, having made his Test debut in the first Test in Durban. Rixon hailed the 26-year-old as "outstanding".
"The other boy [Fernando] was outstanding as well. I thought he batted beautifully," Rixon said. "He has not got baggage to bring. He sees what's there and reacts. His role was unbelievable."
The series win in South Africa tasted sweeter because it came after Sri Lanka had endured tough tours to New Zealand and Australia, failing to win a Test across the two series. Rixon pointed to the change in "mental attitude" of the players when they arrived in South Africa.
"In New Zealand and Australia, I didn't see a lot of adjustments but from Australia to South Africa, I have seen a change in mental attitude and the way we have gone about our training, which has got smarter," Rixon said.
"Players feel happier about themselves. Obviously, winning that Test match in Durban was a once in a lifetime experience. It was a case of someone playing out of their skin. That added belief to the young kids who are coming along."