England came up against one of the rarest sights in cricket during their first tour match in Sri Lanka – ambidextrous spinner Kamindu Mendis – but everything else about their comfortable win was firmly by the book.
Twenty-year-old Mendis was lining up for a strong Sri Lankan Board XI in Colombo and showcased his incredible ability to deliver both right-arm off-breaks and slow left-armers, happily switching from one to the other mid-over with no discernible dip in quality.
Having already made a confident 61, the Galle native proved himself a true all-rounder with his display of versatility but his eye-catching eight-over stint was not enough to distract England skipper Eoin Morgan or Joe Root.
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 via the DLS method.
England had earlier kept a home side featuring nine full internationals to 288-9, with spinners Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid to the fore.
Moeen claimed 3-42 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.”
Ambidextrous spinner Kamindu Mendis has just bowled off-spin to Eoin Morgan and slow left-arm to Joe Root in the same over...— Paul Newman 🌈 (@Paul_NewmanDM) October 5, 2018
There was a first look at Olly Stone in a senior England shirt but despite showing good signs of pace and bounce his six overs were a peripheral part of the tale. In all England’s seamers bowled 23 overs for 158, compared to 27 overs for 121 from the spin pair plus part-timer Root.
A third specialist, Liam Dawson, is expected to get a run out in the second warm-up on Saturday and could have a role to play in the forthcoming five-match series.
“We feel we (spinners) play a massive role to keep it tight and take wickets but these guys are used to these conditions so it might not be as easy for us as people think,” said Moeen.
“At least we do have things in our favour. It was good for my confidence to get a couple of wickets up front. We would like to think we’ll win this series but we will have to play really well. The conditions will be difficult but hopefully we’ll be fine.”
The last word belonged to Mendis, who 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.”
Leg-spinner Shadab Khan is facing a race against time to be fit for the Test and according to a report by ESPNCricinfo, has been all but ruled out of the clash.
The 20-year-old Pakistan star is said to be still recovering from a groin injury he picked up during the side’s campaign in the recently concluded Asia Cup. He has so far played four Tests in his still fledgling career in which he has picked up eight scalps while also registering three half-centuries with the bat.
If Shadab is indeed unfit come Sunday, it will put pay to Pakistan hopes of unleashing a twin leg-spin attack against the vulnerable Aussies.
Senior leg-spinner Yasir Shah is expected to lead the spin contingent which could now feature Bilal Asif instead of Shadab. Bilal provides Pakistan with a varied option with his off-spin and could be particularly effective against an Australia batting card which includes three left-handers in the top six batsmen.
The 33-year-old off-spinner has been capped three times by Pakistan in the ODI format but is yet to make his Test debut.
While Shadab’s injury could open the doors for a Bilal debut, it could also strengthen Mohammad Hafeez’s case for an inclusion in the playing XI.
The veteran all-rounder was a late addition to the Test squad for the series and his off-spin abilities could be a handy option for skipper Sarfraz Ahmed to turn to against the Aussies.
It has been over two years now that Hafeez has featured in the format with his last appearance coming in August 2016 in a Test against England at Birmingham.
Ever since he hit a world-record 546 run in a local Harris Shield match in Mumbai as a 14-year-old, comparisons with Sachin Tendulkar have followed Prithvi Shaw throughout his meteoric rise in cricket.
The 18-year-old opening batsman made history for India on Thursday when he became the youngest from his country to register a Test ton on debut.
The Mumbai-born teenager struck a fluent 134 in his maiden Test innings against the West Indies at Rajkot.
Like his idol Tendulkar, Shaw also registered tons on his Ranji Trophy and Duleep Trophy domestic debuts for Mumbai.
His century against the West Indies on Friday made him the second youngest Indian batsman after Tendulkar to do so in a Test match.
As expected, Tendulkar was full of praise for the youngster.
“Whatever I have seen of him (Shaw), he’s been a fast learner. To me, being talented is one thing but what you do with that talent becomes more important. If you want to succeed at the international level you’ve got to be a fast learner. And Prithvi is a very good learner,” Tendulkar told the Times of India in an interview.
“When somebody has to perform and sustain at this level, and play cricket at different grounds and conditions across the world for a long time to come, adaptability becomes the critical factor. I feel he has the knack to adapt to different situations and conditions. To me, that is Prithvi’s biggest strength,” the batting maestro added.
When asked what advice he would give to the youngster after his sensational international debut, Tendulkar replied, “Just go with the flow. Don’t calculate or think too much. Just enjoy your cricket. Every outing is a special outing. Every outing, you go out with a lot of pride. That’s what it was for me.
“I took a lot of pride in walking out on the field – be it for India or Mumbai or any club for that matter. Just give all the possible respect you can to the game.”