England faced one of the rarest propositions in cricket during their first warm-up fixture in Sri Lanka, with ambidextrous spinner Kamindu Mendis bowling at the tourists with both left and right arm.
The 20-year-old from Galle scored a composed half-century for a strong Sri Lankan Board XI in Colombo – batting left-handed – before taking the chance to prove his true all-rounder status.
Asked to deliver the 14th over as England chased a winning target of 288, he bowled his first five deliveries as right-arm off-breaks to the left-hander Eoin Morgan and then informed the umpire he would be switching to slow left-armers when the right-handed Joe Root took guard.
Having already made a confident 61, the Galle native amazed with this display of versatility but his eye-catching eight-over stint was not enough to distract England skipper Morgan or Root.
Right-arm and left-arm in the same over from ambidextrous spinner Kamindu Mendis!
How would you get on bowling with both arms?
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) October 5, 2018
The pair put on an unbroken stand of 174 for the third wicket, finishing not out on 91 and 90 respectively when bad light arrived to bring a 43-run victory for the tourists via the DLS method.
England had earlier kept a home side featuring nine full internationals to 288 for nine, with spinners Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid to the fore.
Moeen claimed three for 42 as he reeled off 10 consecutive overs in sapping heat at the P Sara Stadium and is more than happy to stick to bowling with one action.
“I’ve never seen someone do that live but it’s great and fantastic for the game,” he said of Mendis.
“It’s amazing he was so accurate with both arms and really it will be the way cricket is going to go. I’ve tried bowling left-arm but I was so bad… you just don’t have that same feel.
“You hear rumours about these guys being around but for him to bowl to that standard and be that good is fantastic.”
Mendis has previously showcased his unusual skill during two editions of the Under-19 World Cup – with one video from the 2016 tournament garnering more than 430,000 views on YouTube.
Mendis has high hopes of bringing his skills to the senior international stage.
“When I was eight years old, playing in the garden with my friends, I learned to bowl with both arms. Now I am comfortable with both and happy to do it any match,” he said.
“I am trying to play for my country and my aim is to play for Sri Lanka, I’ll work hard for it. Root and Morgan knew what I was going to do, they didn’t panic and are very big match players. They are two of the best I have bowled to.”
He bowls with his left, he bowls with his right… @englandcricket came up against ambidextrous spinner Kamindu Mendis in their warm-up match today – we first witnessed his unique skill back at #U19CWC 2016!
Have you seen anything like it?! 👀 pic.twitter.com/2gtVsVMggy
— ICC (@ICC) October 5, 2018
Indian bowler Ashkay Karnewar has a similar ability, and surprised Australia’s touring team during a warm-up match in Chennai last year. But, if not unheard of, ambidextrous bowlers are a genuine collector’s item in top-level cricket.
Another Sri Lankan, Hashan Tillakaratne, reverted from his preferred right hand to his less-favoured left in a hefty win over Kenya during the 1996 World Cup, while others, including former England captain Graham Gooch, have been known to deliver with their ‘wrong’ arm in stalemates.
Other sports have had their own well-known examples. Snooker star Ronnie O’Sullivan responded to claims he disrespected opponent Alain Robidoux by indulging his party piece by claiming to be “better left-handed than he is right-handed”.
In golf, Mac O’Grady attempted to play left-handed as an amateur and right-handed as a professional, while British boxer Naseem Hameed happily alternated between punching southpaw and orthodox.