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Irani Trophy: Ambidextrous Akshay Karnewar’s proverbial googly

Akshay Karnewar
Vidarbha allrounder Akshay Karnewar can bowl with both hands. (Source: BCCI)

Vidarbha left-arm spinner Akshay Karnewar threw a surprise during the Irani Trophy game when he informed umpire Nandan that he was going to bowl right-arm off-spin. The umpire’s reaction wasn’t new for Karnewar; right from his junior cricket days he has turned heads with his ability to bowl both left-arm spin and right-arm off-spin. Once, he had surprised Rohit Sharma when both played for Indian Oil. It made Sharma call Karnewar to the Indian team nets many years ago and had even Sachin Tendulkar stunned.

Born to a bus driver and hailing from Pandharkawda in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district, Karnewar started to bowl off-spin a decade ago. But his coach Balu Naoghare told him to try left-arm spin as well.

“I was a right-arm off-spinner but used to throw with my left hand. One day, my coach asked if I could bowl left-arm spin. Initially I struggled but after two years I became a left-arm spinner,” he recalls. Karnewar went on to represent Vidarbha as a left-arm spinner.

Karnewar says he now bowls right-arm off-spin only when his team asks for it. In the Irani game, he bowled off-spin to left-handed Ishan Kishan before switching to his regular style for right-handed batsman.

“I have bowled before too but this was probably the first time it came on television. Last year, I bowled during the one-dayers (Vijay Hazare Trophy) and got wickets from off-spin. Today, since Ishan Kishan is a left-hander and he likes to go after spinners, my captain Faiz Fazal said I should try off-spin. So I tried. When Hanuma Vihari came I bowled left-arm spin,” Karnewar told The Indian Express.

Karnewar says he had also shown his ambidextrous ability in a warm-up game against Australia last year.

Karnewar says he enjoys doing it. “It’s fun to bowl with both hands. Wherever I have bowled, I see stunned faces. During junior cricket days, a player once joked during a match that I was cheating by bowling left-arm and off-spin in one over. I took wickets with both,” he laughs.

On Tuesday, he bowled two overs of off-spin to Kishan and when Rest of India’s wicketkeeper-batsman was dismissed, he went to his natural left-arm spin. “I play as a left-arm spinner in the team. Though I’m right-handed in daily life, left-arm spin is my main strength. But I switch especially when there is a turning track or when two left-handed batsman are batting. It all depends on the team requirement,” the 26-year-old said.

Some people have told him that he might get confused but he has also found backers like Rohit Sharma. “Some have told me to just focus on one thing but many people have supported me as well. Many have said it will be good for the team. I generally bowl left-arm spin as we find more right-handers in our country.”