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Nivethan Radhakrishnan, from Tamil Nadu to Tasmania, creating opportunities with both hands

He is more than just a novelty, as his progress up the ranks in Australian cricket shows

Deivarayan Muthu
Nivethan Radhakrishnan - composite

Nivethan Radhakrishnan is many players rolled into one, but expects his ambidextrous fingerspin to take him places  •  Nivethan Radhakrishnan

He bowls fingerspin with his (dominant) right arm as well as his left. On the batting front, he's an opener. He is all of 18, but has already had two stints in the T20 Tamil Nadu Premier League and one with the Delhi Capitals - in IPL 2021 - as a net bowler. He is unlikely to be available for the remainder of the IPL, though, having earned his first professional contract with Tasmania. Meet Nivethan Radhakrishnan, who had moved from India to Australia in 2013 along with his family, and is now ready to showcase his skills for everyone.
While Radhakrishnan is many players rolled into one - he can also bowl seam up - he believes that his ambidextrous fingerspin will eventually define his career. He has been bowling with both arms since he was six, after his father Anbu Selvan, a former junior Tamil Nadu cricketer himself, suggested during practice that he give it a shot.
"Dad and I were having a little water break [when they were still in India] and I'm naturally right-handed and was just bowling my right-arm offies," Radhakrishnan recounts, speaking to ESPNcricinfo. "Dad just went: 'why don't you start bowling with the left hand?' No one does it; we hadn't seen anyone on TV do it when I was six in 2008. There was no one bowling with both hands on TV or in league cricket in Chennai. No one had heard of it back then. I was like: 'well, why not?' There's no fear of failure in my game. If I don't care what people think about me and don't care about failing, what limit is there to what I can achieve?
"It was the beginning of something beautiful. People just have their opinions; I get whacked bowling with both hands or just one hand in a game, but I am ambidextrous. That's what I am and that's something that will define my career.
"Before I bowled spin, I used to bowl seam in Chennai. I used to bowl both seam and spin. If I was an aspiring fast bowler of Indian origin, I probably came to the wrong country. The kids three or four years younger than me here are six feet, so I can't really compete bowling little leg-cutters on these decks and will probably get whacked (laughs)."
Radhakrishnan comes from a fairly strong cricketing background. After his playing career, his father managed teams in the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association league, while his elder brother Nikethan turned out for Tamil Nadu Under-14s before the family shifted to Sydney. After the move, the brothers have treaded contrasting paths. While Nikethan has chosen to pursue a career in the medical field, Nivethan has put his education on hold to stay on the cricket field.
Having progressed through the pathway system, Radhakrishnan was picked in the Australia Under-16 side, coached by Chris Rogers, for the Dubai tour at the start of 2019. He was Australia's highest wicket-taker in the 50-over games, with seven strikes in four matches at an average of under 15, and economy rate of 3.07. He also pitched in with the bat, making 145 runs in four innings at an average of 36.25.
"It has been the only time that I've represented my country so far," Radhakrishnan says. "I've played for CA XIs and Aussie Under-17 sides, but that was the first time I played against another country. I'd played for NSW Under-15s, and I didn't do statistically that well at all - if you take in my expectations - but I guess they [the selectors] felt I was good enough and saw something they liked.
"Next season, with the Under-16 team, we had the tour to the UAE. I'm Indian and it was the first time I donned the Aussie yellow, and still today I don't know how I felt at that point. Maybe before that I was 'the Indian kid living in Australia'. And now, in 2021, if you ask me, yes, I'm Indian, but as far as cricket goes, I'm Aussie.
"It was an outstanding experience cricketing-wise. Rogers has one of the best cricketing brains - game-awareness, tactical awareness and his discipline. He was a bit old-school, but considering the fact that he had to play straight into the 21st century, it's amazing the character he showed. You sort of feel like he should have been there in the 60s or the 70s, that's the sort of personality he has, but we had an outstanding experience with him."
It was during that Dubai trip that Radhakrishnan's ambidextrous bowling attracted the attention of the Capitals, who subsequently roped him in as a reserve bowler. He reveals that he was smashed for a number of sixes by Marcus Stoinis and others, but came away better for the experience.
"There's a method to what the Australians do, but the method is never technical. You see it with their cricket - there's never any right or wrong, and as long as it works, it works"
Nivethan Radhakrishnan
"The way I've been taught cricket by [my father] is to take the game on and, again, there's no fear of failure. So getting hit only excites me, and it's the attitude that has made me successful as a spinner and opening batsman. Regardless of whether it's Stoinis, [Shimron] Hetmyer or [Ajinkya] Rahane, they are there to hit and that's their job. The sort of level I'm playing at, and the level T20 cricket is at, if they are hitting me, it's a great result for me.
"I tell you I was hit for a lot of sixes during the time I was there - over covers, over mid-off and over long-on - but the ratio between the amount that I got hit and bouncing back to getting them out or bowling well, I'd say, I won those battles for someone who hasn't been in that situation before.
"I've never bowled to Stoinis before, I didn't even know what to expect, but for him I'm just a Tom, Dick, or Harry that he's belted around his whole life. So, if you look at it that way, it's not really anything technical, but if you have the skill and talent and are putting in the yards, it simply becomes a mental thing of wanting to stay in the contest. It's something that Australians, I feel, generally have - that's their specialty. As a little kid, I was seen as an intense kid back home, but over here it's just what they expect. It's about wanting it like 'I don't care if he hits me for six, I just want to get him out'."
Radhakrishnan reckons that sharing the dressing room with S Badrinath and R Ashwin during his early teens at the TNPL has also helped him prepare for the pressures of top-flight cricket.
"When you have these expectations of wanting to get into these environments, when you get there, it's not the occasion that is exciting - it's not the fact that 'oh, it's the IPL' - but the fact that the IPL has the best cricketers and I know I can become the best one day," he says. "I wasn't intimidated by Stoinis or someone like that, but I was intrigued by the way he batted.
"With every experience I've had, I've just got better - watching Subramaniam Badrinath play in the TNPL, running out drinks to him and listening to what his game plans were, and sharing a dressing room with Ashwin at the TNPL and also at Delhi Capitals and now to be playing for Tasmania.
"At Tasmania, it's not just a cricket thing. It's learning about people because I'm sharing facilities and rooms and living with Tim Paine. I'm playing on PS4 with Tim - like I know his competitiveness is just not a façade for the TV. He wants to win everything and these sorts of things excite me."
The subcontinent has produced a few ambidextrous bowlers in the recent past: Sri Lanka's Kamindu Mendis, Pakistan's Yasir Jan and India's Akshay Karnewar are prime examples. But bowling with both hands is still a bit of novelty in various other parts of the world. As for Australia, there is the ambidextrous Jemma Barsby, who now plays for the Perth Scorchers and South Australia, but Radhakrishnan is possibly the only such male player in the system.
And Radhakrishnan feels that might not have been the case had the Australian pathway system not given him the space to be himself.
"There's a method to what the Australians do, but the method is never technical. You see it with their cricket - there's never any right or wrong - and as long as it works, it works," he says. "But the one thing is they aren't as spin-oriented as India. So, awareness about these things would be slightly lower. Even in 2013 in India, bowling with two hands was quite unheard of. As I got older and started making representative sides in Australia, Under-13, Under-14 and Under-15, it started getting cricketing validity, with various cricketing heads having seen me do it with control.
"Kudos to how Australian cricket works. Marnus [Labuschagne] has his funny leaves and Smithy [Steven Smith], you don't even have to ask about that. It's actually something I'm very grateful for."
Radhakrishnan admits that he is looked at as a bit of a novelty at times in Australia too, but that he has learnt to block out all the noise.
"Even last year, I was like right-arm over and left-arm around, there are officials who look back at me for a few seconds and stare at me. You get all these reactions," he says. "There are guys who get excited at it and sort of stop the game for a two-minute chat and there are opponent batsmen who go: 'wow mate, that's so cool'. Some umpires think it's weird, not really approving, but the way I've dealt with it is whether it's positive or negative, I don't take it to my head, especially in the middle of a match. It goes in one ear and goes out through the other - or I never let it go in at all. Once you start listening to all that chirp, it can be dangerous."
Radhakrishnan was also offered a contract by New South Wales, but has now shifted to Tasmania in search of greener pastures. It could potentially be the next step in his pursuit of the Australian dream.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo