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Coaching manual’s axe effect: When left is actually right


SURESH MENON in The Hindu


David Gower.


In Pakistan, Sadiq Mohammed turned to it to increase his chances of being picked for the side; in India, Sourav Ganguly converted so he could use his brother’s equipment; in Australia Mike Hussey was merely emulating his hero Allan Border.

These are all sound reasons for batting left-handed. But recent research has shown that there may be stronger scientific reasons than emotional or practical ones for the natural right-hander to bat left-handed.
It might seem illogical that batsmen should be classified according to the placement of their weaker hand or the use of the less dominant eye. The conventional right hander watches the approaching bowler with his left eye while the top hand, responsible for controlling and guiding the bat, is his weaker hand.

Gower’s logic

That elegant left-hander David Gower once said, “Both right-handers and left-handers have been horribly misnamed because the left-hander is really a right-hander and the right-hander is really a left-hander, if you work out which hand is doing most of the work. So from my point of view, my right arm is my strongest and therefore it’s the right hand, right eye and generally the right side which is doing all the work. Left-handers, as such, should be called right-handers.”

It is too late for that, of course!

It might be logical, though — but cricket is not a logical or natural sport like soccer is; it might even seem irrational, and that is part of its charm.

Gower’s position has recently been endorsed by science. Research in Amsterdam’s Vrije University suggests that a “reverse stance”, with the dominant hand on the top might be the most efficient way to bat, and successful international players use that technique. The paper is published in the journal Sport Medicine.

Professor Peter Allen who led the study said: “The ‘conventional’ way of holding a cricket bat has remained unchanged since the invention of the game. The first MCC coaching manual instructs batters to pick up a bat in the same manner they would pick up an axe.”

Besides Gower himself, Adam Gilchrist (who plays tennis right handed), Matthew Hayden, Kumar Sangakkara, Chris Gayle, David Warner, Ben Stokes are conventional left handers who are right-hand dominant, while the reverse is true in the case of batsmen like Michael Clarke and Inzamamul Haq. Sachin Tendulkar, uniquely, batted and bowled right-handed but signs autographs left-handed.

Left-handed batsmen benefit from being less common, with bowlers struggling to adapt. Left-handers play right-arm medium-pacers bowling across their bodies from round the wicket which feeds into their bread-and-butter strokes. The not-quite-glance, not-really-a-hook that left-handers play fine off their hips is unique to them. Both Gower and Lara played it exceptionally well.

Misnomer?

But did we really misname them, as Gower suggested? Coaches do tell their wards about the role of the top hand and the part played by the bottom hand in strokes such as the cut and pull. But few can explain why in that case, a batsman has to lead with his weaker side.

One possible explanation for the switch (if it is indeed that) may be that the drive being a stroke that calls for timing rather than power, the weaker top hand can handle that and leave the forcing strokes to the stronger hand. It is also easier for the bottom hand to manipulate the wrists when it needs to be rolled to keep the ball down.

In Right Hand, Left Hand, winner of the Aventis Prize for Science Books, Chris McManus says that around 10% of the population and perhaps 20% of top sportsmen are left-handed. He makes the point that left-handers have the advantage in asymmetric sports like baseball, where the right-handed batter has to run anti-clockwise towards first base after swinging and facing to his left.

Sometimes the asymmetries, he says, are subtle, as in badminton, where the feathers of the shuttlecock are arranged clockwise, making it go to the right, so smashes are not equally easy from left and right of the court. Sometimes, of course, the left-hander is at a total disadvantage, as in polo, where the mallet has to be held in the right hand on the right side of the horse, or in hockey, where the sticks are held right handed.

South Africa’s Graeme Pollock played tennis right-handed, but golf left-handed (he wrote with his right hand). Garry Sobers was left-handed in everything he did.

Indefinite conclusions

I don’t know what conclusions can be drawn from this. Perhaps the left-hander whose right hand is the stronger hand plays the top-hand shots like the drive better than most. And the one with the stronger left as bottom hand plays the shots square of the wicket better.

Coaching, cultural and visual biases may ultimately decide whether a child takes up his stance right-handed or left. From then on, familiarity and comfort dictate. As does pragmatism. The “dominant side” theory is usually a retrospective explanation.

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