Neither Hambantota, the port city on Sri Lanka’s south coast where Matthew Kuhnemann was on Wednesday afternoon, nor Kandy, where he made his international debut less than 24 hours later, were part of the cricketing plans the spin bowler had initially laid out for himself this year.
Kuhnemann travelled between those cities on Thursday morning to join Australia’s 50-over squad before getting the nod to play the second ODI as the injured Ashton Agar’s replacement when the team arrived at the Pallekele Stadium after midday.
The 25-year-old who had been bowling with a red ball until tea of the previous day’s Australia A match was suddenly, after an emotional cap presentation from fellow Queenslander Marnus Labuschagne, bowling with the new white Kookaburra against Sri Lanka’s main side in front of more than 30,000 fans.
Kandy crowd goes crazy as hosts level series
It was a world away from the English league cricket stint in north London Kuhnemann had signed on for last Christmas and which he presumed would be his main off-season cricket activity in 2022.
That he still plans to play for Shenley Village in the Hertfordshire League at the end of his unexpected Sri Lankan odyssey highlights his remarkable surge from fringe state spinner to international cricketer.
“Everything’s up in the wind at the moment but that’s the plan,” he told cricket.com.au after claiming 2-48 in Australia’s 26-run defeat.
“It’s crazy. I’ll have to reflect on it tonight and take it all in. It’s just so hard, everything’s just going at 100 miles an hour at the moment.”
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Kuhnemann snares first wicket after sharp Carey catch
If his head was not already spinning when speedster Dusmantha Chameera clean bowled him to seal the match, the arrival of a frenzied Sri Lankan fan who had sprinted to his side in an attempt to pinch his disturbed woodwork would have made sure of it.
Kuhnemann might finally have a moment to reflect on the Australian team bus that was en route to Colombo in the wee hours of Friday morning, with the island’s capital marking his third city in under 24 hours.
Despite the unusual circumstances of his first match, it was a tidy first outing in national colours for Kuhnemann, who snared the wickets of Pathun Nissanka and Chamika Karunaratne and did enough to suggest he should feature again in this series.
And maybe be kept on for the Test series if Agar’s side injury does not heal in time.
“Test cricket would be a dream but I’m not looking ahead of myself,” he said.
Hailing from the Gold Coast where he went to The Southport School, Kuhnemann was a promising junior prospect when he was rookie contracted as a 19-year-old with Queensland in 2016 having played for the state’s U19 side and toured Sri Lanka with the Australian U19s.
But a first-class debut was not forthcoming for almost five years given even lead spinner Mitchell Swepson at times struggled to get a game on juicy green home Gabba decks.
Kuhnemann also had to work hard on tweaking his bowling action to maximise his effectiveness.
“He’s always been a good athlete but it’s been a real journey for him to develop a blueprint for his bowling and to find an effective technique in Australian conditions as a starting point,” Brisbane-based spin guru Jon Davison told cricket.com.au last month.
“And he’s worked really hard at it. He’s very professional, very popular among his teammates and someone who’s always looking to develop, which has been the best part of working with him.”
Those changes helped Kuhnemann finally earn a maroon cap last year, before shining in the absence of Swepson (who was away for national duties for most of the recent Shield summer) as he snared 25 wickets at 31 during the recent summer’s Marsh Sheffield Shield.
It was the strongest return by a spin bowler in the competition, with his summer highlighted by an 10-wicket haul against Tasmania that marked the best bowling figures by a Bulls spinner in more than 40 years.
“You’d say he was quite loose in his technique and undercut the ball a fair bit, so we’ve worked really hard on tightening him up and getting him driving over his front leg, rather than bowling around it,” explained Davison.
“It’s worked really well in Australian conditions. The challenge going to Sri Lanka is working out the ideal shape to bowl with there but the beauty of his journey is he can slip back into different arm positions and different ball shapes.
“It will be exciting for him to bowl in conditions that are going to assist him.”
Labuschagne flier caps milestone haul for Kuhnemann
Still there remains a determination within Kuhnemann to find room to improve by any possible means.
After learning that he would be going to Sri Lanka with the Australia A squad instead of the UK for club cricket earlier this year, Kuhnemann flew to Sydney to bowl on synthetic nets with and pick the brains of left-arm spinner Stephen O’Keefe.
O’Keefe had had a brief but successful career at Test level, including one Test in Sri Lanka on Australia’s last tour in 2016.
Part of his effectiveness on the subcontinent stemmed from his ability to hit the stumps and bowl with a lower arm path, which became a focus of Kuhnemann’s when he spent a month in Brisbane in the nets under the eye of Davison in the lead-in to the tour.
“I was naturally a bit squarer probably three or four years ago and we worked hard to get that overspin, pretty much like Nathan Lyon,” said Kuhnemann, who fittingly played alongside Swepson on Thursday.
“We got together, myself and Davo, Swepo (before the tour) where I was actually trying to go the opposite, trying to back to being squarer.
“Having both those options in the bag is good over here … just trying to change the pace and seam angle helps heaps.”
Kuhnemann’s work ethic was referenced in the cap presentation by Labuschagne, who had joined the Bulls squad in the same 2016 intake as Kuhnemann and remains one of his close friends.
“To see your journey from the start with Queensland, your development, your appetite to learn and grow as a player,” said Labuschagne, who made mention of Kuhnemann’s family that had been unable to witness his debut given the unusually short notice.
“My favourite attribute is your competitiveness; it doesn’t matter who’s at the other end. It doesn’t matter who you’re coming up against, even if you’re under the pump, you always trust your skills.”
June 14: Australia won by two wickets (DLS)
June 16: Sri Lanka won by 26 runs (DLS)
June 19: Third ODI, Colombo, 7pm AEST
June 21: Fourth ODI, Colombo, 7pm AEST
June 24: Fifth ODI, Colombo, 7pm AEST