Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Left-handed Batsman

God makes man, and adds some variety to every single piece He manufactures. Some little quirks here and there, a bit of a surprise now and again, and what we get is what Evolutionists call genetic diversity. One of these wonderful varieties added to human life is the trait of left-handedness. And when you combine this with the wonderful sport of cricket, what results is sheer beauty.

The service that won 14 Grand Slam titles.
Welcome to my first blog, dear readers. So many things craved for my attention as I sat to think about the subject for this blog. What better, I thought, than write about a wonderful aspect of a beautiful game we all are so crazy about... Prior warning, if you do not care much for the sport this might bore you, but if you love it for its sheer beauty, this might be interesting!

First things first. Not all left-handed sportsmen are "left-handers" in the true sense. Rafael Nadal has a booming left-handed service, but writes and eats with his right. Sourav Ganguly, it is said, started batting left so that he could share his brother Snehasish's batting gloves.Sachin Tendulkar, on the other hand, scored 34,356 international runs batting right-handed, but you would find him signing autographs with his left. Nonetheless, cricket has a fixed definition for left-handed batsmen, and they are the subject of my attention.

A copybook left-hander's cover drive from Dada.
Cricket commentators can be heard very often commenting on a left-handed batsman's "natural grace of shot-making". Quite rightly so; we have had a galaxy of batsmen batting left-handed who have looked like grace personified on the field. But what makes them so much more cool to watch, playing the same shot as their right-handed counterparts? Lets start with the off-side strokes first. The textbook says, play offside strokes with your top hand, and use your wrist. Which is certainly easier said than done. For a left-hander, mind you, it is the right hand which stays at top. So for someone like Dada, or say a Suresh Raina, whose right hands are the strong hands, the right wrist motor nerves are much more easier to control, and also more accurate. So the perfectly timed shot bisecting cover and extra-cover looks so much more beautiful. And assuming we have a right-arm bowler bowling over the stumps, the natural angle of the cover drive, going with the angle, makes it even better. Compare this with a Virat Kohli cover drive. It is more of footwork, balance and timing, but maybe not as much grace. The other side of the coin, however, tends to be the angled bat. Such deft wrist movements tend to make the bat face open, resulting in feather touches to the keeper. So all in all, it is a left-hander's wrist which makes his off-side shots beautiful, but at the same time you get those slight nicks to the glovesman.

David Warner and his powerful forearm.
An exception to this technique is David Warner. Blessed with such a strong right forearm is he, that any cover drive of his is booming shot, more of brute force, pummeling the ball to the boundary, with a rather locked wrist. Any room outside the off-stump and you're a goner, but his strong hands can fail when the ball is close to the stumps, as is the case with Shikhar Dhawan, and the edges carry to the slip cordon instead. Try this yourself. Lock your wrists into a fixed position, and mime a left-handed right-forearm-powered shot on the off-side. If you have strong arms and brilliant hand-eye coordination like Warner, you have control over your shot. If you don't, gully-cricket awaits.

Now for shots played down the wicket. Here the hand does not really make a lot of difference since other things like balance transfer and judgement of length are at play. Nevertheless, you do need to make contact at the right time and at the "sweet point" of the bat, or rather, considering rigid body kinetics, the "centre of percussion" of the bat.
Moving on to the leg side. On drives and flicks, both front and square of the wicket, have in general been the right-handers' forte. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, two exponents of on side strokemaking, were both heavily dependent on the perfect rolling of their bottom, i.e. right, wrists. Born right-handers batting left, are at a disadvantage here, since for them it is the left wrist being called into action. Where the left-handers do benefit is booming slog sweep or lifted stroke over deep mid-wicket's head, against both pacers and spinners. Take a bow, Yuvraj Singh.

Name a batsman who is not at his best playing the hook or pull shot, and odds are that he bats left-handed. Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja among the contemporaries, Vinod Kambli among the old-timers may plead guilty. Someone of the stature of Michael Clarke was also found wanting. What goes wrong? It is the inability to roll the wrists at the correct instant to keep the ball down. Play the pull shot in front of your front shoulder, they say. So the a left-hander's natural shuffle into the offside facing an over the wicket approaching missile, inevitably takes him away from the ball. The result: top edges down to deep fine leg.

This is more or less a comprehensive summary of a left-handed batsman's approach to shots all around the wicket. Not every generalization works in all cases, and one will run across exceptions now and then. But all in all, the contribution which left-handed batsmen make to this beautiful game we all love is worth its weight in gold!