Under-19 World Cup 2016 February 3, 2016

Kamindu Mendis, Sri Lanka's ambidextrous asset

Kamindu Mendis can bowl orthodox left-arm spin. He can bowl right-arm offspin as well. He is also a handy batsman. And his unique skills were on show against Pakistan in Mirpur

Kamindu Mendis can switch hands both with the bat and ball © International Cricket Council

On the first ball of the 18th over in Sri Lanka Under-19s' chase against Pakistan Under-19s, in Mirpur, left-handed batsman Kamindu Mendis attempted a reverse sweep off left-arm spinner Ahmad Shafiq and it fetched him three runs. That was not the first time Mendis had switched hands or his stance or his style of playing - whether during the day or his career.

When Pakistan were batting, Mendis was brought on to bowl in the 27th over with two right-handed batsmen in the middle and he started with some orthodox left-arm spin. After a run-out in that over, left-handed batsman Salman Fayyaz took strike. Mendis then switched to right-arm offspin.

"I practice with both arms but I bowled with both arms [in a match] for the first time in Under-17 against St Joseph's College two years ago," Mendis said after the match. "I took four wickets in that match."

The junior Sri Lankan selectors first spotted him and his unique skill about a year ago in school cricket and held several trials before picking him for the home Youth ODIs against Pakistan last October. "He does it very well and he's just 16 years," junior selector Ranjan Paranavitana told ESPNcricinfo. "And he can bat at any position…it's an added factor for Kamindu."

Mendis first started practicing with both arms in the nets at the age of around 13 when his coach Dhanushka Dhinagama came up with the idea. The plan was simple - turn the ball away from the batsman. And that's what he did today too - left-arm orthodox against right-handed batsmen and right-arm offspin against left-handed batsmen.

"When two left-handed batsmen are batting, we have to use two offspinners," Paranavitana explained. "When Kamindu is bowling he can bowl to both kind of batsmen."

Mendis is also aware that he is not the first Sri Lankan to try it out. Hashan Tillakaratne, a part-time offspinner, had done so in the 1996 World Cup in a league match against Kenya. Defending 398, Sri Lanka had the match in the bag when Tillakaratne came on to bowl the last over of the innings and bowled left-arm orthodox spin and right-arm offspin. Even though Mendis was not even born then, he has played with Tillakaratne's son who happens to be a chinaman bowler.

Naturally a left-hander, Mendis is more of a classical spinner compared to the spinners of this age and era. Right arm or left arm, he flights the ball and often pitches it up to tempt batsmen to drive with a slip in place. In Sri Lanka's 23-run loss to Pakistan, Mendis bowled only four overs without any success and conceded 21 runs.

Mendis took to cricket because of his cricket-following father and represents Richmond College in Galle, like his captain Charith Asalanka. And the two recently made their List A debuts together for Galle Cricket Club. Mendis and Asalanka, in fact, have been playing together since the Under-13 level.

Mendis is one of the youngest members of the squad and likes to call himself a batting allrounder. It was his batting that proved more handy on Wednesday when he hit 68 runs at No. 3, even as the rest of the batsmen did not provide substantial support. In a chase of 213, Mendis took his team closer to 150 with a patient knock, which lasted nearly two hours, before holing out to long-on. Sri Lanka then lost their last five wickets for 32 runs.

"My idea was to play 50 overs but I played a poor shot and got out," Mendis said. "So I think I should do less mistakes and do well in remaining matches."

The other young and promising allrounder in the team is Jehan Daniel, the only player younger than Mendis in the squad, and assistant coach Avishka Gunawardene said the idea to pick them early was to hone them for the next Under-19 World Cup.

"That is the plan in our mind," Gunawardene said. "In every Under-19 tour we are planning to have 16 or 17-year-old guys go on the tour so they can play for a couple of more years in Under-19 and take over when the senior guys go. That has been the plan in the system.

"I think Sri Lanka's school cricket structure is really good, it is one of the best in the world. That is the backbone of Sri Lankan cricket. So until they come out of school, they hardly play first-class cricket."

Mendis bats left-handed, can he bat right-handed too?

"Can't bat with both hands (laughs) but I can reverse sweep," and he used quite a few of them after the 18th over too.

Vishal Dikshit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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