ICC World Cup 2019: Left or right, beauty is in the timing
We all know that left-handed batsmen are supposed look better in action than right-handers. Just try, next time you are watching Virat or Rohit or MS live at a ground near you, to watch them in a reflection somewhere and see if they look more elegant, more pleasing on the eye as a left-hander. To be fair, they all look pretty damned good in their natural guise as right-handers, but try it anyway.
Would they be any more effective as left-handers? The answer is probably not, but it has been another long held view (largely by ‘ordinary’ right-handers) that for some reason it is an easier game for left-handers, most likely based on the trite assumption that as most batsmen and bowlers are right-handed and right arm, that, therefore, is the norm and any deviation from that apparently confuses them. I would be doing a disservice to the world’s great batsmen and bowlers if I tried to state that as a fact.
Technically, there is actually one area where right-handers have it slightly tougher and it is Geoffrey Boycott’s now infamous ‘corridor of uncertainty’ outside off-stump. Knowing when to play and when to leave is all part of the equation, albeit more so in Test cricket than the one-day version. For us left-handers it was much rarer to come up against left-arm bowlers who could create the same issues in reverse as it were, so we were/are still more concerned with the traditional angles across the body. However technical one wants to get on this, I have always held the view that there is good and bad; and the best players get it right more often than the not so great.
Of the top 10 batsmen in this tournament, three are lefties, with David Warner and Shakib Al Hasan at the very top of that list. They are not necessarily the most aesthetically pleasing to watch, but nobody can quibble over how effective and productive they are.
Warner had been below his absolute best but still productive, until his blitz against Bangladesh during which he seemed to be firing on all cylinders. He is not dissimilar to my great adversary, Allan Border. Both use their forearm and the short-arm jab more than the free-flowing drive. Warner, like AB all those years ago, is so very quick to pounce on anything a little short and which gives him even a little bit of width to play with so that he can get that cut shot away. It is the traditional strong scoring area for left-handers, square of the wicket. For the right-arm bowlers, the way they have tried to combat that is by coming round the wicket to cut down the angle. Either way, I’m afraid, the line is crucial.
Shakib’s century against West Indies was more of a triumph of temperament in a situation when a cool head and calm assessment to get successfully to the end of a tough chase was as important as the technical aspects of his innings. On behalf of the right-handers, Kane Williamson’s supremely judged hundred under very testing conditions versus South Africa was maybe an even better example.
The word ‘time’ is always used to describe the best batsmen—having apparently more time to play their shots. Whatever the illusion, men like Shakib do give the impression of being unflustered and unhurried. It is all about balance at the crease and the timing of one’s movements, things that naturally improve as an innings progresses. It is a trick that is harder to pull off when there is genuine pace at the other end and West Indies (once again!) have some of that, adding further heft to the quality of Shakib’s play in that innings.
Left-handed or right-handed, the best batsmen have that ability to both build and pace an innings. Warner’s 166 was the first time he had finished an innings in this World Cup with a strike rate above 100, whereas in earlier matches he had been criticised for lacking urgency. Time at the crease changes all that and men like him, with the luxury of batting at the top of the order, are allowed to plan on the possibility, or even likelihood, that they will be there long enough to factor in acceleration later on and end up with a proper strike rate, unlike those in the middle order who so often know they will be required to hit top gear earlier in an innings.
That was no problem for Eoin Morgan with his record breaking hundred at Old Trafford against Afghanistan during which the ball seemed to spend more time amongst the crowd. If that’s what Morgan can do with a bad back then let’s see what he can do when fully fit. One might say it was only against Afghanistan, but it was a mighty statement of intent, one that backs up Morgan’s and England’s so-called fearless approach to 50-over cricket. Yes, it will not be as easy to be so free-minded as the competition hots up and the final knock out games come up, but it was still a great way to set an example as captain. I also enjoyed the freedom with which he spoke about it afterwards, allowing himself to enjoy the moment and not just trot out the usual platitudes about the team.
Morgan is in the form of his life. Fearless, ultra-positive cricket requires the strongest of minds and he has one of the strongest around. It also requires a strong technique and he has a supreme talent when it comes to one-day cricket. Range hitting techniques are universally better nowadays, even if I could point you to a few in previous eras—Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Ian Botham to name but three—who were not content with just clearing the boundary but preferred the deeper recesses of the stands, or even the spaces outside a ground.
Keeping one’s head down and eye on the ball are the essentials and when one slowed down the pictures of Morgan launching the unfortunate (on the day) Rashid Khan into those temporary stands at old Trafford, you could see how perfectly he did that while at the same time giving his arms room to swing freely through the ball. He also read Rashid well from the hand so that the bowler’s variations were dealt with adeptly.
Another of the best around, Quinton de Kock, has not been able to make a mark, but on his day he is as effective as the others and has more of the natural grace that we like to associate with left-handed batting.
As it stands, two of them, Warner and Morgan, look more likely to be around at the business end of this World Cup, flying the flag for the left-handed fraternity. But there are a few right-handers who will be just as vital.
As a postscript, may I add my other long held theory that the two forms of batting were misnamed at birth. It is clearly evident that left-handed batting is predominantly a right-handed, right side and right eye-dominated activity, with the reverse true for right-handed batsmen. However, I suspect after all this time, the labels will not change.
(David Gower is writing a weekly column for HT for the duration of the World Cup)