So freakishly unorthodox were the skills of Muttiah Muralidharan that, as batsmen around the world reassured themselves, we would never see his like again. Then came Ajantha Mendis, who may not be as prolific as Muralidharan, but whose innovative spin bowling certainly made the rest of the world sit up and take notice.
And to watch England’s batsmen struggling to decipher the cryptic variations deployed by Sachithra Senanayake at Chester-le-Street on Sunday, when the tall off-spinner took four for 13, was to wonder whether the production of highly skilled, unorthodox players is now a matter of routine for Sri Lanka.
In fact, according to Kumar Sangakkara, the flow of such unusual talents from Sri Lanka is only likely to increase over the next few years.
The success enjoyed by Malinga and Mendis in the lucrative Twenty20 era is one clear reason. Another is the uncovering of new seams of talent in Sri Lanka, from parts of the island previously scarred by civil war.
Few of the national team’s players have been drawn from the north and east of the island, but, since the end of the civil war in 2009, the popularity of the game has begun to grow. Recent victories achieved by the team, in the Asia Cup and the World Twenty20, are only likely to accelerate the process.
“There is so much untapped talent in the outstations in the north and east,” Sangakkara said. “Cricket has spread very quickly and the real challenge is to ensure we develop the infrastructure and facilities in those parts.
“In the next 10 years, I hope that we’ll have not just one, but two, three or more players from those areas in the national side.”
Senanayake, 29, was a relatively late developer, only playing first-class cricket regularly once he had turned 23. When he arrived at Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo from his home village of Gampaha, he bowled only off spin with the same slightly bent arm he uses today.
“There will undoubtedly be more X-factor players coming through,” Sangakkara said. “We have a good system and our coaches are very liberal minded when it comes to nurturing talent.
“With the X-factor abilities of Murali, Lasith and Ajantha, the value of such uniqueness was evident. We have players who escape formalised coaching at an early age, pick up cricket later, and maybe that brings the uniqueness.”