Cricket: Left way around

Blog by: Snehal

Stuart Broad is a right-hander who bowls right-handed and bats left-handed (Getty Images)

Ever wonder how the number of cricketers who bowl right-handed, but bat left-handed seems to increase? There are a number of examples in the international cricket community, across countries. Names like Stuart Broad and Sourav Ganguly come to mind instantly. (The reverse also seems true, as Michael Clarke’s highly underestimated bowling arm indicates.)

So much so, that this trend seems headed towards becoming the rule rather than the exception. And this points to a (not-so) new school of coaching, that is churning out these seemingly ambidextrous skills, creating more “hybrid-handed” cricketers.

Some coaches might cry foul here, pointing out that they usually encourage whatever their pupils naturally choose. Fair enough, but are we asking the right questions?

Traditionally, a right handed stance means that our left hand is the top hand and our right hand is below it. One of the first things that happen in coaching is that the bat is placed on the ground in front of the pupil with the toe facing away, and he (or she;we ladies play cricket too, but for the sake of simplicity I will henceforth use “him”) is asked to pick it up.

This means that on picking up the bat, the toe usually points upwards. This in turn naturally demands a grip in which our dominant hand is closer to the blade to stabilise it against gravity; similar to the way one would hold a sword, with our strong hand close to the hilt.

Here, I believe, lies the turning point. While a sword is always held with it’s point against gravity, a bat is usually used in the direction of gravity, with its toe pointing down. In this case, a grip which places our strong hand farthest from the toe is more suitable, as this creates the longer lever, thus more bat speed.

This also makes more sense technically, as for all vertical bat shots, the top hand gives direction and control. Isn’t it easier to use the hand that is already our strong hand as the top hand? It would solve a problem coaches continually moan about; that of over using the bottom hand while driving.

Perhaps when we hand the bat to a pupil, we could hold it out to him with the toe pointing down. Then, reaching for it with his strong hand may naturally nudge him toward a stance that will seem to be the opposite of what we traditionally expect (left-handed for right handers), but which when you think about it, is more natural.

The advantages to this approach will not be lost on anyone who has played the game. In a sea of ubiquitous right-handed batters (I prefer using this term borrowed from baseball as it is more gender-inclusive), a southpaw poses a challenge for a bowler. It involves a change of line, angle, field and strategy; all of which are headaches any bowler would rather avoid.

This very fact is the reason why most teams at all levels employ right-hand-left-hand opening combinations. Even purely left-handed opening combinations, which don’t invoke a constant change of line for the bowler, are often more successful than pure right-handed pairs –  Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer being the most successful example.

Perhaps this very logic is the reason why a number of international teams seem to have an equal distribution of right and left-handed batters (which, when you think about it is odd, as the distribution of left handers in the human population is only 10 to 30%).

Judging by the number of southpaws in many international sides, I’d say this approach is already popular with many coaches. Just as parents take life-changing decisions for their wards, coaches may be coaxing young children to go against their traditional stance in favour of a “hybrid” stance. And I see nothing wrong with this, if it equips a player with an edge in the extremely competitive cricket environment.

Which approach is better? Is it fair to young kids playing the game to ask them to change? Will we see a day when left-handed batters are more common? And if so, will that negate their advantage?

Fellow players, coaches, friends, aficionados – weigh in with what you think about this. This debate is hereby declared open!

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