What's the fuss about Kamindu Mendis? Ambidextrous bowling explained

Ambidextrous bowling might sound like a novelty - but Sri Lanka's Kamindu Mendis is one among a group of young players experimenting with the skill

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
Left-arm round, right-arm over: Kamindu Mendis shows off all his tricks  •  Getty Images

Left-arm round, right-arm over: Kamindu Mendis shows off all his tricks  •  Getty Images

Kamindu Mendis, the Sri Lanka allrounder who can bowl with either arm, could make his international debut in Saturday's T20 against England. Ambidextrous bowling might sound like a novelty - but Mendis is actually among a group of young players experimenting with the skill. Here we go through the ins and outs of switching between delivery styles and what is permitted by the Laws.
So, he bowls with his left arm and his right?
Yes, that's correct. Mendis, 20, bowls offbreaks in addition to slow left-arm - the latter being marginally his stronger suit. He caught the eye when playing for the Sri Lanka Board XI against England during a warm-up match earlier this month, sending down his offspin against Eoin Morgan, a left-hand batsman, and then switching to orthodox left-arm against right-hander Joe Root. He had previously showcased his abilities during the 2016 U-19 World Cup.
That's mad… He must be unique?
Surprisingly not. In India, Akshay Karnewar has had some success at senior level bowling fingerspin with both hands, while a talent hunt in Pakistan unearthed ambidextrous fast bowler Yasir Jan, who was promptly given a 10-year development contract by Lahore Qalanders. In the women's game, Jemma Barsby has alternated between offspin and slow left-arm playing for Brisbane Heat in the WBBL, while Bangladesh's Shaila Sharmin took up bowling spin with her left arm after finding herself at the back of the queue as a right-arm bowler.
Sounds like this is a new phenomenon?
There have been examples in the past: Pakistan batsman Hanif Mohammad, in the 1950s, was believed to be the first to bowl with both arms in a Test, former England captain Graham Gooch was capable of it, and Sri Lanka's Hashan Tillakaratne (who was also a wicketkeeper) rolled out the trick during the closing stages of a big win over Kenya at the 1996 World Cup. But some, such as former Australia coach John Buchanan, believe now is the time to encourage potentially ambidextrous players from a young age.
What are the advantages?
Chiefly, the ability to change the bowler's angle of attack according to the situation. Spinning the ball away from a batsman is a preferred tactic, while it might be possible to make better use of the rough by switching bowling style. The mere element of surprise, by delivering the ball with the other arm, could be enough to gain an advantage - which can be all-important in the fast-paced environment of T20.
So can the bowler just run up and bowl using whichever arm he likes?
It's not quite as simple as that, thanks to the Laws of the game, which stipulate the bowler must inform the umpire - who in turn tells the batsman - whether he or she wishes to bowl over or round the wicket, and with which arm, before they deliver the ball. They can switch as often as they like during an over, as long as the umpire is told each time. The MCC deliberated last year about whether to drop the requirement, but decided player safety dictated the batsman should know from where (and which hand) the ball is coming. Just don't mention the fact that batsmen are not restricted in the same way.
Kamindu Mendis could be one to watch, then…
Yes, although it might not necessarily be for his bowling. Mendis, a former Sri Lanka U-19s captain, considers himself a batting allrounder and made 61 from 72 balls coming in at No. 6 in the aforementioned tour game against England. Mendis bats left-handed… but his proficiency at the switch hit is currently unknown.

Alan Gardner is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick