Every team wants an all-rounder, but finding one to properly justify the title is a tough thing to do; there are few players who could earn their spot in an international team with either bat or ball. But Kamindu Mendis is rarer than all of them. Not only does he bat in the middle order and captain his country, he also bowls spin equally well with left and right arm, even changing mid-over on occasion. “When I was young and starting cricket, I just practiced both with my coaches,” he said. “Usually I do [bowl left-arm to a right hander and vice versa] but it depends on the situation.”
The innovation is something rarely heard of in cricket, to the extent that despite Mendis’ best efforts, confusion among the officials often reigns when he reveals his talent. “I just tell the umpire and let the batsman know,” he said. “But sometimes they look at me like, ‘what are you going to do now?’”
Mendis’ ambidexterity doesn’t extend to his batting, but the left-hander is more than useful with the willow – he has four half-centuries in U19 ODIs, and a high score of 68 against Pakistan, who Sri Lanka will face in the group stages of the ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup 2018.
Despite, or perhaps because of his unorthodox method, Mendis has become a fixture in this form of the game for his country; should he play every game at this tournament, he will become Sri Lanka’s most capped player in Under 19 ODIs. He thinks his experience should count for plenty. “Playing in two World Cups is a great thing,” he said. “I think that experience can help me do more for my country and my team. The country is always looking to us, and I just want to do best for my country.”
There isn’t a facet of the game Mendis doesn’t seem to enjoy, with captaincy also bringing him great joy. “I enjoy working with my teammates and my support staff,” he said. “It’s very easy to work with them and I’m proud to be captain of the Sri Lanka under 19 team. With that pride, we have the motivation to do something great for our country.”
Looking to the future, beyond Under 19 cricket, Mendis doesn’t envisage a need to specialize in one method of bowling or another. Bowling with right and left arm is not something any bowler has done in a full international before, but being unprecedented only serves to spur Mendis on, as it should. He’s truly unique, and deserves to be celebrated.