Kusal Mendis talks about not congratulating Virat Kohli and social media abuse that followed the 2023 Cricket World Cup – LSB

10 Min Read

Imagine the scene. You are the captain. Captain was thrust into this role in two World Cup matches. And your team? They just lost two games on the bounce. In fact, five of the last seven. The last one was against India – the destroyer of absolutely simultaneous worlds in cricket. In it, your team is not only defeated, but falls into the dust of Wankhede.

Worse still, it’s the second straight game against them in which your team has suffered such humiliation. Memes are making themselves, social media trolls are in tears, and even fans – reluctant to accept the undoubted superiority of this Indian juggernaut – are coming to the only conclusion they can: your team is rubbish. And they’re not afraid to let you know.

With all that going on between your ears, you’re ignoring the world. Stay away from socializing, the kids say. Focus on the job at hand. Which, at this point, is like a media conference in front of the world’s cricket media, before a match that your team must win. Addressing the media is not her thing either, English is very much a second language.

So you sit, waiting for questions about your upcoming opponents, translating the questions from English to Sinhala and the answers from Sinhala to English in your head, just to try to project positivity that you’re not sure you feel. Suddenly, someone asks you a question… about congratulating Virat Kohli on his 49th birthday in ODI. You’re confused at first: Did they get to the right iron? And then it all comes back quickly – the memes, the trolls, the abuse, and the sheer sarcasm in your bookmark.

And so I shouted: “Why should I congratulate him?” He laughs all the time. This is a pre-press conference for Sri Lanka’s match against Bangladesh, why are they asking about Kohli?

Well, Kusal Mendis soon found out. Upsetting Sri Lankan fans is one thing, upsetting their northern neighbors is quite another.

“After that I dealt with a lot of abuse. Everyone knows how good a player Virat Kohli is, yeah, maybe I should have wished him that time,” Mendes said on Sunday, offering a rare insight into the player’s mentality. A player who is often on the economic side verbally.

“That day we first went for training, and after that there was a press meet. The next day was the Bangladesh match. When I went there I had no idea how many goals Virat Kohli had scored, all I knew was that there was a match. So.” When I was asked this question, I was initially confused because this was a media conference regarding the match between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. But looking back, I know I was probably wrong in how I reacted, because scoring 49 centuries is not easy. “I know how difficult it was, but at that point I wasn’t clear about what was needed.”

Issue closed then? Yes…for now. See, for Mendes, this is nothing new at all.

The School’s Cricketer of the Year and Under-19 World Cup captain, he soon joined the national team, which within a year of his debut for Sri Lanka hit 176 en route to Sri Lanka’s rare Test series win over Australia. Mendes was living the dream.

But this was Sri Lanka’s post-2014 team, and the batting had already begun its downward trajectory following the retirements of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, and Tillakaratne Dilshan. Mendis was barely out of his teens as a polished finished product, but Sri Lankan cricket and its adoring fans were crying out for a new champion. That knock against Australia certainly fueled the fires of expectations.

So, when the format eventually bottomed out, Mendes became a lightning rod for criticism – especially social media, where much of the discourse began to shift.

“To some extent [as] The things that get posted on social media, when we’re doing poorly, is when we need the most support. “If a player is doing poorly, if you can spread some encouragement, that will be better,” Mendes said. “A few years ago, the exact same thing happened to me, where I suffered a lot of abuse online. As a young player, growing up in the game, I cause a lot of hurt. And it’s very hard to recover from that. Sometimes, even when I’m on the road, I hear “People say things behind my back.”

“We never go into a match looking to lose, we always play for our country and ourselves. We are always looking for how to win. So my humble request to the fans is to support us as much as possible.”

Kusal Mendis

But in Mendes’ case, many may find it difficult to feel empathy. In 2020, he was involved in a car accident in which a 64-year-old cyclist was killed. The issue was closed after settlement. A year later, he was one of the three cricketers banned for violating bio-bubble protocols when Sri Lanka toured England.

But after returning from that suspension, Mendes has rediscovered some of the best form of his career, and has now been entrusted with leading the team – for however long that lasts.

He was also refreshingly candid about the pressures surrounding the role, going into detail about his decline in form since taking over the ODI side – before that he had scored 76 and 122 against South Africa and Pakistan respectively.

“In the South Africa match, it was difficult for me to play my normal game, which is to play a few balls first and then go into the goal. [because Sri Lanka were chasing 429 for victory]. So what I tried to do was see how I could score fast. That made a difference in the first game, and also in the second game [against Pakistan]With the momentum I had in the first match and the training matches, I was able to continue in the same vein.

“But that’s not my game. So after that, when I became captain, I think maybe the pressure got to me because I’m a human. I wasn’t expecting to get the captain’s armband, so when you look at my game after that I felt like I couldn’t play the same way as I had in previous games.”

“In terms of leadership alone, I didn’t feel all that much pressure. I only really felt the role when I got on the field, but there I had a lot of help from my teammates. When I came out to play I didn’t think much about the captaincy at first, but after losing the first “Two games and then knowing that the team needs to win… I think that, along with the captaincy, may have affected the way I approach my game. But I want to make it clear that I don’t feel a lot of pressure from the captain himself.”

Now he has used his position to speak out about the epidemic of abuse suffered by athletes in all sports.

“It’s very hard to get up when you’re down,” he added. “We never go into a match losing, we always play for our country and ourselves. We are always looking for how to win. So my humble request to the fans is to support us as much as possible. There are videos of our players getting wickets, and videos of With our players scoring goals – share it. And just try to spread some positivity in tough times like these.”

With the discussion around mental health growing every day, Mendes’ request should be something fans – and others – should try to support. It’s not very difficult.

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