The opening batsman strode to the middle with the confidence of a man who had an ace up his sleeve. Upon finding out from which end the first over would be bowled, he had a brief conversation with his partner, strode to the crease, took centre and stood on the wrong side of the bat.
The wicket keeper (me), aghast at the situation playing out before him, turned to first slip (my brother Dave) and said, “Left handers, ruining cricket since 1901. Before that, they weren’t allowed to play.”
They sure do. They’re a curse to square leg umpires, who should have a cushy job giving close run outs not out and basically ignoring every short-run ever done. Instead, the presence of the left hander forces the square leg umpire to actually do something. The left hander comes on strike and the field resets, the bowler is about to bowl, and all of a sudden the square leg umpire flies into motion as he realises he’s forgotten to change sides.
Countless is the slip fielder who has been left looking daft after the change of over when the bowler has told him he doesn’t need a second leg slip. There is the bowler, who probably grew up bowling over the wicket to his talentless right handed brother, training himself to never, ever bowl anywhere near the side of the pitch where you most definitely have to bowl to the devil-handed.
Then there is the unfortunate chap who has in his hands the direction of the team. The poor bloke who is supposed to hold all the answers, set the plans and make the calls. The issue the captain has is that, because he has no idea what the left hander is doing, or how to get him out, he’s really hoping that the aforementioned bowler, who also has no idea, knows what he’s doing.
The problem is that, left handers have grown up batting with an angle at their advantage. Where right handed batsman aren’t used to left arm bowlers (who also ruin cricket), left hand batsmen are very much used to the ball coming at their body, and become well practiced at hitting the ball on the leg side.
Damn them and their natural advantages! By being the minority, they can take advantage of a set of circumstances that benefit them but disadvantage the majority. Unless the ball is a foot outside off, the ball is easily worked to leg, where the fieldsmen are more sparsely set. Once the ball is a foot outside off, it is easily treated as a ball a foot outside off should be treated: with contempt.
For the bowler, bowling the ball a foot outside off to a left hander is as unnatural as it comes. It’s the equivalent of deliberately bowling four wides down the leg side to a right hander. Only, you suggest, if the keeper is no good. However, we already know who the keeper is.
In local, club level cricket, the one moment of joy that left handers can provide us normal-handed folk involves two combatting left handers. Have you ever seen a left armer bowl to a left hander? Wowsers, it’s like the cricketing equivalent of crossing the streams in Ghostbusters. “All life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.”
As the left armer’s delivery winds its way batsward, and the batsman looks to make some kind of decision re the delivery and best practise for taking care of it, it is obvious that either is completely out of his depth. As a wicket keeper standing up to the stumps to a slow medium left armer in this situation, for the briefest moment you feel that, should the ball strike bat, the whole universe may become sucked into a vacuum and wind up a pin point hole at the point of contact.
Of course, at the elite level, things are the same but different. Self-appointed ‘legend’ Adam Gilchrist took full advantage of his, um, advantage. In his prime, there seemed nowhere you could bowl to him. On his body, he’d hit you through leg. Any wider to the off, and he’d smash you that side. The other really good ones, like Brian Lara, had such an array of shots of any width or length it is impossible to bowl to them.
Yes, the bowlers are much much better than at club land, so the advantage to any less than the best of the best is nullified to a great extent. The late Phil Hughes was kind of the anti-Diablo, in that he was left handed but played like a righty (or, as said to fill in the time this Saturday gone, Garth Tander’s brother, Rye. Rye Tander, get it? Never mind.). Hughes had to teach himself to play on the leg, which was the weakness to his great strength, the cut.
The opposite to Hughes is a man who has confused me over the years until an ODI in the last week or so. He is a right hander whose technique was so “flawed” I just couldn’t see how he could make it. Weak outside the off unless short and wide, but powerful on his legs, his major assets seemed to be a good temperament, quick running between wickets, and the ability to bowl a little bit of leg spin.
The problem I saw with Steve Smith’s batting was that he only seemed equipped to despatch bad bowling. In Test cricket, bad bowling is not coming along that often. Over the course of the past year I, like the rest, have watched in awe as Smith has repeatedly carved up attacks, and as he made his recent century against England, it finally dawned on me why: he plays like a bloody left hander!
He’s not just great off his pads, he’s actively searching for the ball to be on his pads. He’s moving outside off to hit the ball to the leg. He’s doing this repeatedly. Keeping his head still as he moves to find the ball where it should be so he can despatch it to where it shouldn’t go. As with left handers, it is unconventional, but it works. It looks like it shouldn’t, but it does.
He’s making bowlers ask themselves the question, where do I bowl to this bloke? He’s making captains search for new plans. When you consider that above him and below him in the Test line-up are David Warner, Chris Rogers and Shaun Marsh (all left handers), it actually seems to me that it is actually Steve Smith that is making the square leg umpire change sides.
Steve Smith, the right handed left hander.