At the time of writing the Ashes series has just been completed. Usman Khawaja completed a Man of the Match performance in the 4th Ashes test after scoring two brilliant hundreds, hundreds scored with style and technical excellence - and just what his team needed.
Khawaja bats left-handed. Player of the series was Travis Head for his crucial runs throughout the series, excluding the game he missed which allowed Khawaja his opportunity to shine. Head bats left-handed.
I must admit a bias at this juncture for I bat left-handed. Throw right handed, bowl right handed, kick right footed, write right handed, play tennis right handed, play golf right handed. Though admittedly I have flirted with left handed golf club clubs since the right handed versions are liable to send the ball right (or left) at any given time. I might just have to admit to being a rubbish golfer whichever way I try to hit it.
Basically I am a right handed person who happens, purely by chance to bat left-handed. Sometimes I wonder what might have been if Dad had not reversed my stance to that of a left hander and instead switched my hands. Perhaps my golf swing would be a better honed entity. But he didn’t and for that I am eternally grateful.
Growing up, cricket on TV meant England versus whoever was on tour that particular summer. So my favourite batsman was Surrey and England's left handed opener, John Edrich. Small and compact, he was a very tidy player but in Test cricket as a 6 or 7 year old, he was, well, a little bit boring. Later as I began to read my father's stash of cricket books I discovered that actually he was a bit of a dasher and scored an unbeaten 310 against New Zealand including 52 fours and 5 sixes, that is 238 in boundaries. Now you're talking.
So while Edrich was the first leftie to strike my imagination, cricket for me was fired into another stratosphere in 1978 when David Gower sauntered to the international wicket for the first time. The beauty and elegance of his play immediately changed my outlook on the game. I have never believed in modeling play on another player but Gower was a player that it was impossible to ignore.
It was an unusual privilege then in 1986 to spend a morning and good bit of an afternoon in the field to Gower as he hit a magnificent 100 for a fantastic Leicestershire side in the NatWest Trophy. If that was good, then coming up against a young Brian Lara, just before his batting took the cricketing world by storm was another thrill. He even bothered to catch me that day, admittedly off the bowling of Desmond Haynes but hey I can live with having the names of Haynes and Lara alongside mine in the records. If Gower was elegance personified, Lara had that same elegance along with dash, aggression, touch. And a back swing to die for. Utterly brilliant. Indeed and left -handed.
It was great fortune then, when I arrived down in Castle Avenue, that the first youth coach assigned to my group was another lefthander, Brian Bunworth. In that era, Clontarf was a truly remarkable side in that week in week out, it sent out a team with the majority of players who batted left handed.
This is a Clontarf side from the early 80s, Enda McDermott (lhb) JB Bunworth (lhb) Noel Grier (lhb) Collie Daly (lhb) Brendan Bergin (rhb) Fergus Carroll (lhb) Johnny Nolan (lhb) Podge Hughes (rhb) Rossa Bunworth (rhb) gerry Kirwan (lhb, sla) Micky McTiernan (rhb,sla) That's a total of seven left handed bats and two bowlers of the left variety, an unusually high number.
However what is even more remarkable is that the substitute bats from the 2nd Eleven for that era were Peter Prendergast, David Fleming, Lenny Dexter, Nick Barton and myself and yes you have probably guessed at this stage, all left handed. While Gerry Kirwan flew the flag, pretty vigorously in fact, for left arm bowlers on the 1st team, wheeling away on the 2nds were Doc O'Kelly and Mick Delaney, both southpaws. Legend has it that against a touring team an all Left Handed side was fielded, but it was not unusual for nine to play league cricket. Something in the water or a statistical fluke?
Research suggests that left handness is a combination of genetics, biology and the environment. It was not that long ago that schools punished children for attempting to write with the left. Even in cricket the suspicion existed, after World War 1 The Times discussed banning left handed batting. Approximately 10 percent of the population is left handed but in international cricket 20 percent of top order batsmen are left handed. Why is that? Academic studies suggest that a bowler's lack of regular exposure in games and in training provide an advantage to left handed batters. Clearly academic studies are being carried out by primarily right handers.
It becomes irritating after a while that these academics look for a reason to "explain" the statistical over performance of the lefties. We know that if we consult the MCC coaching manual that batting is a top hand game, the top hand guides the path of the bat. Logically, then a right handed person would be best suited to bat left handed. If only it was a game of logic. Of course while the top hand tracks the path of the bat, the bottom hand provides the whack. Is the advantage of one nullified by the disadvantage of the other? Has anyone done a study on that yet, I wonder. Still they try to find an excuse for the supposed advantages.
Women’s cricket lags behind a little with left handed bats though there might be a touch of that same Clontarf water out Merrion way where Leah Paul is making great strides with the bat and of course Isobel Joyce has done so with the ball for many years. A few are beginning to make an impression in international cricket worldwide, Australia’s Beth Mooney immediately comes to mind batting wise and England’s Sophie Ecclestone with her classical slow left arm spin. There are many more to come I am sure in future years.
It would be unfair to ignore the bowlers. Currently two of finest sights in world cricket are Mitchell Starc and Trent Boult charging in at opening batsmen with new ball in their left hand. Again, curmudgeonly commentators suggest that they have an advantage in that batters don't commonly or regularly face such bowlers. There is a solution, the same one as usual, practice. Irish cricket has been well served by the southpaw.
When I first started to watch the Irish side, Michael Reith opened the batting in classical left handed style as of course did Clontarf's own Enda McDermott and Cork County’s Pat Dineen. Garfield Harrison, who began life as a seamer who batted, became an integral left handed component of the middle order who also bowled excellent right arm off spin. Jim Patterson was another who provided great service to the Irish side with his left arm bowling and hard hitting left hand batting, a full on left hander.
On the bowling side, arguably two of the finest, ever, Irish bowlers were left handed, Alec O’Riordan and Dermot Monteith, fast and slow, different style, different characters but the same wonderful cricketers. It reminds me that Dermot once told me that he never trusted a left handed wicket keeper. He had his logic, in that to a right hander, his dominant hand would not be the leading hand but hey, that left handed keeper would be the one Dermot wanted when playing against Clontarf.
2007 was a pivotal year in modern Irish cricket history, left handers were the backbone of that line up, Jeremy Bray, Andre Botha, Niall O'Brien, William Porterfield, John Mooney and of course Eoin Morgan. Boyd Rankin even had the good sense to bat left-handed down the order. Meanwhile over on the England team a certain Ed Joyce was in action. One wonders if there was an impact on youngsters watching the Irish cricket team on the big stage and subliminally noting the way that they batted?
I will be brave and bold enough to say that in my view that Morgan and Joyce were the best of them and while their records back me up, I am stating this not just on their records but the wonderful style they brought and in Eoin’s case still bring to the game. I am willing to forget Eoin’s unorthodox stance he adopted for a short period. Ed, of course scored Ireland’s first test run, a fitting person to do so, I feel.
I would hate for you to think that I cannot look beyond lefties and ignore the rather large percentage which is made up by the "others". For the sake of balance amongst my favourite players who play the wrong way are Mark Waugh, Martin Crowe, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar. All of them probably wish they were lefties and most of them bat with a left handed style. However, Tendulkar is ambidextrous and one can easily imagine a version of him batting the correct way round.
My sons often tip me off when they find a new left-handed batter for me to admire, though the eldest will often whisper quietly "Kepler Wessels" to remind me that not all lefties are elegant and stylish. There is always one, it makes us appreciate the others all the more.
It is a great bar room topic to pick your favourite team, so I will do that, based purely on their handedness. I am staying within the era that I have watched cricket so someone as outstanding as Gary Sobers does not get in, so here goes.
- Ed Joyce
- Kumar Sangakara
- Brian Lara
- David Gower
- Andy Flower
- Mike Hussey
- Adam Gilchrist
- Wasim Akram
- Daniel Vettori
- Mitchell Starc
- Trent Boult
Forget about formats, don't tell me you wouldn't go watch that side.
Back in Castle Avenue after a number of years where left handers had become a rarity, they are making a comeback, two of the brightest young under age players along with a certain set of twins are leading the comeback.
Years ago, Clontarf’s Andy Cullen had a bit of a strop when a left hander arrived at the wicket meaning that as captain he had to reset the field.
“Left handers” he raged “they should have to play in their own league”
Always have been in their own league, Cully, always have been.