Saturday, October 25, 2008

A swing to the left?

A quick glance at the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for Test cricket shows that Shivnarine Chanderpaul leads the way – albeit narrowly – from Kumar Sangakkara and Michael Hussey. Other than appearing in the current top three of the World Batting Ratings, these batsmen share another characteristic – they are all left-handed.

In fact, there are a total of eleven left-handers in the top thirty batsmen which equates to nearly 37%. If we examine the top thirty in the Rankings at ten-year intervals and analyse how many are right-handed and how many are left-handed, over the past sixty years we obtain the following figures:

Date RH bat LH bat Leftie % RH bowl LH bowl Leftie %
Oct 2008 19 11 36.7 23 7 23.3
Oct 1998 19 11 36.7 24 6 20.0
Oct 1988 23 7 23.3 24 6 20.0
Oct 1978 23 7 23.3 23 7 23.3
Oct 1968 22 8 26.7 21 9 30.0
Oct 1958 24 6 20.0 22 8 26.7
Oct 1948 27 3 10.0 26 4 13.3

Whereas there has been an increase in the proportion of left-handed batsmen playing Test cricket over time, the percentage of left-handed bowlers over time has stayed pretty constant.

In all Test cricket since the Second World War – which equates to the majority of the playing time incorporated in the figures above – left-handed batsmen have had a clear advantage. They average 34.61 whereas their right-handed counterparts average 29.15. Furthermore, 6.1% of all innings played by left-handers over that period of time result in centuries, compared to just 4.6% by right-handers.

So – why the increase in left-handed batsmen performing at the highest level? One possible reason is that having a left-hander and right-hander batting together causes more problems for the bowling team. A typical left-hander would historically have spent most of their time batting in a left-hand / right-hand partnership, whereas right-handers would spend a greater proportion of their time batting with another right-hander.

Of the sixteen batting partnerships who have added the most runs together in Test history, four are all right-handed, one is all left-handed and the remaining eleven all feature one left-hander and one right-hander.

One other possibility is that the natural line of attack for a right-arm over the wicket bowler would make it more difficult for them to achieve LBW decisions against left-hand batsmen, given that a ball which would have hit the stumps will often have pitched outside leg-stump. Without a similar increase in left-handed bowlers utilising their angle of attack to claim more left-handers leg-before, the left-handed batsmen enjoy their slight advantage.

Over the same period, left-arm bowlers average 33.49 runs per wicket with a strike rate of a wicket every 80 deliveries. Their right-arm team-mates average 31.77 with a strike rate of 70, a difference which surely cannot be put down solely to the fact that there have been more right-hand batsmen for their fellow right-hand bowlers to dismiss lbw. So, if any youngsters are reading this and want to reach the top of the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings at some point in the future, it may just be worth your while to train yourself to bat left-handed and bowl with your other arm.