Is your left hand better than your right hand? Hmm … Now, this is indeed an intriguing question. Obviously, we need both our hands for different tasks; sometimes separately, sometimes in tandem. I feel the same goes for a cricket team; left-handed bowlers have their uses, as do right-handed bowlers.
There have been arguments for and against the so-called heightened abilities of lefties or southpaws (as they are called in North America) in spatial and creative areas or fields. Studies have shown that about 10-13% of the world population is left-handed. Yet, in the world of cricket, nearly 30% of the batsmen are left-handed and nearly a quarter of bowlers are left-handed. And the reason for this being that a left-handed player tends to change the game be it Brian Charles Lara, or Wasim Akram or Zaheer Khan.
However, Brian Lara is right-handed off field and just prefers to bat left-handed. Similarly Deepti Sharma of the Indian women’s cricket team and Sourav Ganguly of the men’s team bat with their left and bowl with their right. Why is it that these players use their left arm for batting? Read on to discover.
Surprise, surprise and then some…
A majority of batsmen in international cricket are right-handed and are used to angles, curves, spins and swings as /played by right-handers. Hence being a left-handed player gives one a definite edge. A leftie can throw other players off their game, cause them to misjudge their own pace and entrenched styles. For starters (no, not the eating kind!), the right-handed batsman has to adjust her/his stance to get a fuller view of the bowler. Why? Since the bowler is bowling from the opposite side, her/his usual side-on stance has to open up a wee bit. Or (s)he ends up viewing the bowler from the corner of the eye. There is your first instance of discomfort! Secondly, even a straight ball can look curved since it is pitched slanting across the batsman. By the time the ball reaches the batsman it will be too late to correct for the mis-assumption. If you are a batsman, all you are thinking at this point is ‘ouch! I misjudged the ball!’
Image credits – Medical Xpress
Thirdly, since the batsman’s stance is open, (s)he has to keep her/his stride short. There goes your stylish, effortless swing that would make fans go ‘wow!’ In addition, the ball is often pitched outside the off stump by left-handed bowlers. These balls may either shape back in or hold its line. Both can prove lethal to a batsman. Don’t want to be bowled out or look confused, do we? So no doubt the element of surprise and the unexpected angles do pose a problem to batsmen when lefties bowl.
The leftie is already used to a world that is geared towards right-handed players. There is not much that can rattle their game, except maybe another left-handed player. Since the latter are in short supply, there is a slim chance of that happening. According to Aakash Chopra, former cricketer, right-hand spinners need a number of tricks up their sleeves to surprise the batsman, but not so for the left-arm spinners. Their natural inclination is to take the ball away from the batsman in an out-swing.
The implication then is that right-handed bowlers have a few choice tricks in their arsenal. They are forced to learn a number of bowling styles and techniques if they wish to stay on top of their game. In other words, they are versatile! One just needs to look at Dale Steyn or Saeed Ajmal to see the truth of this. They have given superb performances in Tests, ODIs and T20s. Then there are cricketing legends like Glenn McGrath or my personal favourite Anil Kumble.
A left-arm unorthodox spin or a Googly!
The term has been in use since the early twentieth century. Anyways, the left-arm unorthodox spin (or Chinaman) and the Googly (or Doosra) are basically the same kind of ball action but by a left-handed bowler and a right-handed bowler, respectively. The ball turns from left to right after pitching for the left-handed spinner; and from right to left for the right-handed spinner (Too many lefts and rights?).
This movement is untypical for the left-handed bowler. Many of the left-arm unorthodox spin bowlers use their wrist spin to achieve this kind of ball action. Imagine the kind of convoluted mini gymnastics their poor wrists have to go through to achieve this feat! In fact, former Indian spinner Murali Kartik sums it up when he said of Shivil Kaushik, “Shivil Kaushik is all over. It is like you will get a pain in your back, side and everywhere, the way his action is. I was trying to ape his action and I thought I would get a side strain.” This also probably explains the injury-proneness of most leftie bowlers. The right-hand off spin bowler achieves the same effect, but with less turn since they do not usually use just the wrist.
The left-arm unorthodox spin sees results most often when the left-handed bowler surprises the batsman in between regular balls. Similarly, the Googly also is used to maximum effect when it is used sparingly. Paul Adams and Brad Hogg are famous leftie bowlers who have used the left-arm unorthodox spin technique effectively in their careers. India’s own Priti Dimri is a left-arm unorthodox spin bowler who played till 2010. It is only recently that the men’s test team acquired one, Kuldeep Yadav. He made a successful debut by picking 4 wickets in a match against Australia on 25 March 2017.
As an aside, it might be better to call the left-arm unorthodox spin just that instead of ‘Chinaman’, because the origin of the latter word is mired in racism and controversy. Having said that I think left-arm unorthodox spin is quite a mouthful. Sigh! Maybe the cricket gurus will soon coin an easy-to-use word for left-arm-unorthodox-spin.
What about Leg-Before-Wicket (LBW)?
International captains prefer to test the right-handed batsmen with the mettle of their left-handed bowlers. After all it is difficult for a batsman when the ball pitches at unexpected angles and slants across them. Then again the same could be said about left-handed batsmen facing right-handed bowlers. In fact the discomfort could be both ways: it is said that Dale Steyn, an established pace bowler, would not bowl to opening left-handers when it was a new ball!
The right-handed bowler is so used to bowling to the right-handed batsmen they have perfected their lines and techniques to counter the latter. A right-handed bowler playing round the stump is not a common sight. So such a game ploy should be equally effective against right-handed batsmen, methinks, in theory at least. However, in practice even seasoned players like Harbhajan Singh were reluctant to go around the stump.
What happens in the normal course of right-handed bowling from over the wicket? To quote Aakash Chopra, “the ball pitches outside the line of leg stump, or if it pitches in line, it misses the stumps. Only a doosra, or a floater pitching in line with the stumps, can get the batsman leg-before from that angle.” And for a delivery from around the wicket what materializes most of the time is that the bowler goes wide and then the ball goes down the leg side. The chance of LBW is lost in this scenario as well.
So the final verdict? Lefties seem to have a definite advantage when it comes to LBWs.
How about Ambidextrous Bowling?
It would seem that since surprise is the key to winning wickets, bowlers who can bowl with both hands must be at a premium. Yet it appears that very few bowlers can actually bowl with both hands with ease. Akshay Karnewar is the up and coming star of domestic cricket in India who has astonished quite a few biggies of India cricket with his ambidextrous skills. The Srilankan Kamindu Mendis is another player to watch out for. If he plays his cards right team India would be facing him in the near future. Hashan Tillakaratne, the well-known batsman, is another ambidextrous bowler though he has not had much of an opportunity to highlight his bowling talent.
Image credits – ESPN Cricinfo
The current Indian men’s cricket team lacks strong leftie bowlers. The same is not true of our women’s team of course. If Indian team (women and men’s) could pick and train ambidextrous bowlers, they would indeed act as game changers in a way that many of our famed batsmen have been in the past and present. The debate on whether left-handed bowlers or right-handed bowlers are the flavour of the season would never arise. Unfortunately, true ambidexterity is a rare phenomenon. But people can be trained to use their non-dominant hand. In fact, many players do use their non-dominant hand for batting as I mentioned in the beginning. What India would need is to invest more time and money on all-rounded bowling skills. We are known for our innovative practice methods, but maybe we need to push more and aim for the stars instead of the tree in the yard.