Sport

Ambidextrous Sri Lankan bowler snares the limelight at under-19 World Cup

As bigger bats and players adept at reverse-sweeps and switch-hits entrench the belief that cricket is a batsman's game, a 17-year-old Sri Lankan is striking back for the bowlers.

The all-rounder is proving to be the major drawcard of the under-19 World Cup, taking place in Bangladesh, because of his rare ability to be bowl with either arm. Kamindu Mendis is able to choose which arm to bowl finger-spin from, depending on which he thinks will be more threatening to the batsman on strike.

Kamindu Mendis: the ambidextrous spinner

Sri Lankan bowler Kamindu Mendis is switching up the under-19 cricket World Cup with his ambidextrous bowling style.

Cricket laws say a batsman can change his batting stance without advance warning, which has led to the increasing prevalence of reverse sweeps and switch-hits — the latter is changing your stance and grip to bats the opposite way — to artificially create gaps in the field. Those gaps occur because opposing captains have set a field expecting them to maintain their stance.

Among Australians, Glenn Maxwell is the best at the reverse sweep, which involves a cross-bat paddle in the opposite direction to what is expected, without changing your grip. David Warner is the most adept at the switch-hit, which involves swapping the position of your top and bottom hands to make it easier to score from the opposite stance.

Kamindu Mendis bowls during the under-19 World Cup.
Kamindu Mendis bowls with his left arm (left) and right, during the under-19 World Cup. Photo: Supplied

While some pundits have bemoaned the ability of batsmen to play such shots, the game's lawmakers have rebuffed them, believing it fosters innovative batting.

Bowlers have been at a disadvantage in that regard, because they have to notify the umpire, who in turn informs the batsmen, of any change to their bowling style. Typically that is limited to whether they are bowling over or around the wicket. There has always been the theoretical possibility of changing not only which side of the wickets you are bowling on but also the arm you are using, but it has barely been exploited. Mendis is arguably the highest profile case of a player practising hard enough to be able to do it regularly in matches.

Mendis told ESPNcricinfo he had long practised bowling with either arm, in the hope of being able to spin the ball away from both right-handed and left-handed batsmen, but had not done it in a match until two years ago. A four-wicket haul convinced him to pursue the tactic, rather than just rely on his favoured right-arm off-spin.

In Mendis' three matches at the under-19 World Cup he has taken four wickets at an average of 15.25. Three came in one match: 3-36 off 8 overs against Afghanistan.

Despite Mendis' rare talent he rates his batting as better than his bowling.

With Twenty20 matches surging in popularity — and importance — it is likely other players will try to match Mendis in being ambidextrous with the ball.