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03 February 201619:26 By Sidhanta Patnaik, Mirpur

​Look right, look left – it’s Kamindu Mendis in action

The Sri Lanka Under-19 all-rounder has done better with the bat, but it’s his ambidextrous bowling that’s making the headlines

He is like any upcountry Sri Lankan teenager who is still making an adjustment from an entirely Sinhalese-speaking daily life to exposure to the outside world. He looks and speaks like any other affable Sri Lankan. He doesn’t have ten hands and feet. But, well, he does bowl with both his hands.

Sri Lanka Under-19 may have lost to Pakistan Under-19 by 23 runs in its last Group B game of the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2016, but in the first televised game Sri Lanka played, Kamindu Mendis's ambidextrous spin bowling made him an instant talking point, especially on social media.

“I think it’s a born talent because when I was in school I practiced with both hands,” said Kamindu soon after the game, constructing his sentences slowly but with confidence.

Kamindu started the tournament by bowling left-arm spin against Canada, where he picked up one wicket in 2.2 overs, but he switched to bowling both left-arm orthodox and off-spin against Afghanistan and reaped 3 for 36 in eight overs.

Against Pakistan, he was brought into the attack in the 27th over and bowled left-arm spin to Umair Masood, the right-hand batsman. But Masood was run out off the third ball at the bowling end. Hasan Mohsin took a single off the fourth ball, which brought Salman Fayyaz, the left-hand batsman, on strike. And that was when Kamindu showed his diversity as he bowled off-spin. Kamindu kept switching between off-spin and left-arm spin as the fifth-wicket pair of Mohsin and Fayyaz took 21 runs off his four overs.

The story started when Kamindu, son of a hardware shop owner in Galle, was 12 years old. He had tried bowling with both hands, and he received a boost when Dhanushka DG, his coach at Richmond College in Galle, encouraged him.

Naturally left-handed, Kamindu, who has played List-A cricket for Galle Cricket Club, took inspiration from Hashan Tillekeratne, the former Sri Lanka captain who, too, had bowled with both his hands in the ICC Cricket World Cup 1996 game against Kenya. It helped Kamindu that he played with Deba Prasad Ravindu, one of Tillekeratne’s twins, who bowls chinaman but can throw with both arms.

Kamindu got to showcase his gift for the first time in a match situation “two years ago” in an Under-17 inter-school game against St Joseph’s College in Galle. “Yes”, he says when asked if the opposition was surprised, before adding, “I got four wickets in that match.”

Mohsin, who made 12 runs off 12 Kamindu deliveries on his way to a run-a-ball 86 in Wednesday’s match, was “surprised”, but said he was comfortable with the change. “For me, left-arm spinner, I believe I can play them easily – whether he’s bowling an armer or break,” said Mohsin. “Off-spin would have made it easier (too). Pakistan’s wickets are such that we play spinners well.”

Even if Kamindu failed to take a wicket against quality batsmen against spin, his emergence is an interesting development, as players like him, if good enough with their craft(s), can free up a place in the XI, allowing the team management more options to get their composition right.

Cricket is historically rich with uniqueness. When KS Ranjitsinhji first played the leg-glance in the late 19th century, he left the English audience dazed. In 2008, when Kevin Pietersen launched the switch-hit in a match for the first time, he was ridiculed. Today, a leg-glance, a googly, the doosra or the carrom ball, reverse sweeps and switch-hits are all an organic part of the game. Ambidextrous spinners such as Kamindu could well be viewed as pioneers by the upcoming generation, as they provide a pathway for cricketers to optimise their playing and earning potential if, of course, they are good enough.

Kamindu, who considers himself a batting all-rounder, however, has no thoughts about batting both ways, yet. “I can’t bat with both hands,” he said with a laugh. “But I can play reverse sweep.”

Avishka Gunawardene, the Sri Lankan team’s assistant coach, has welcomed Kamindu’s emergence. “I think it’s all up to the coaches, from the time they start playing cricket and the younger days itself, to identify talent. I am huge fan of unorthodox, which, I think, is very effective. If you look at (Lasith) Malinga, (Muttiah) Muralitharan – all unorthodox players,” he had said on the eve of the Pakistan match. “Even in world cricket, many unorthodox players have been successful. As long as they are in control and talented, I think we will continue to produce one or two who look different to the others once in a while.”

While his bowling made news for its uniqueness on the day, it was Kamindu’s batting that gave Sri Lanka respectability. Batting at No. 3, he made 68 off 104 balls, before a rush of blood forced him to step out and he was caught at long-on in the 35thover. Sri Lanka, in pursuit of 213 to top the group, failed to get going after that and was bowled out for 189 in 46.4 overs.

“My idea was to play 50 overs, but I made a bad decision and got out,” said Kamindu. “I think I should do less mistakes and do well in the remaining matches.”

With the bat and with the ball, there could well be more to come from Kamindu, and he might then become more than just a subject of curiosity.