11 November 2006.
Everyone has been batting the wrong way around. Right-handers ought to take guard as southpaws and vice versa. The reason is simple. Cricket is a top-handed game. Moreover, both hands have roles to play. Most racquet games are played one-handed. As far as batting is concerned, the dominant paw ought to take the important position. Coaches have been barking up the wrong tree since the ancients first staggered to the crease armed with a hunk of willow. Those instructing anklebiters need to rethink their strategy.
It is a matter of documented fact that the business of scoring runs has been taken over by left-handers. Wherever one looks these blokes are running amok. The assumption had been that this dubious collection of reprobates, this pampered bunch of pretty poets, owed their ascendancy to favourable laws, blind umpires and novelty. Finally, the penny has dropped. Most of them are not left-handers at all, but righties who, more by luck than judgement, go about their task the correct way.
The evidence is overwhelming. Consider the batting at the Champions Trophy. Chris Gayle spent the month belting the ball around Indian parks. Bats left-handed. Bowls, catches and opens beer bottles with his other mitt. Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Ever seen him send down a leg-break? Stephen Fleming? Writes his cheques with the easterly flipper. Jacob Oram? Thumps down his seamers with the right arm.
Consider the past. David Gower? Bowled his few overs in Test cricket with his cork-opening hand – and, for his pains, was called for throwing. Mark Taylor? Turns on his air-conditioner with the right paw. Sourav Ganguly? Kicks penalties with his right foot.
Consider the teams playing in this Ashes series. Marcus Trescothick opens chocolate bars with his right hand. Matthew Hayden tosses salad with the same palm. Adam Gilchrist plays tennis right-handed. In the ring, Justin Langer leads with his left but dispatches with his right. Michael Hussey does one-handed push-ups with his bowling arm. Michael Clarke is a leftie and wisely puts that hand at the top of his bat. Same applies to Nathan Bracken. Wisden is silent about Alastair Cook’s bowling but the odds favour him sending down slow off-breaks with his right arm. Ashley Giles’s stronger arm sits atop the bat.
Thinking back to Somerset days. Dasher Denning, Brian Close, Nigel Felton, Jon Hardy, Merv Kitchen, Nick Folland, Richard Harden, all batted and bowled different ways around. Consider callow youth. Ed Cowan and David Warner, NSW’s promising newcomers, send down leggies with their right-arms and bat as southpaws. Consider also Phil Jaques and Mark Cosgrove, and Daniel Marsh (the other way round). Think about foreigners. Wavell Hinds? Graeme Smith? Jacob Oram? Sean Ervine? Is it all supposed to be coincidental?
Admittedly, a few players have somehow managed to score a few runs despite standing the wrong way around. Don Bradman springs to mind. At first sight, his performance in averaging 99 in Test cricket weakens the case that he should have been batting left-handed. Bill Andrews, the old Somerset coach, had the answer for such craven arguments. Decades ago he was chastising a boy for gripping the bat the wrong way, only to be informed that “Bradman held the bat this way and he scored a few”. Undaunted, Bill promptly replied, “Yes, but imagine how many he’d have scored if he’d held the bat the right way!”.
Although not much of a chap for organisation, and a little inclined to fall asleep on the pitch during the tea interval, Bill was a wonderful coach, in a King Lear sort of way. He called his memoirs The Hand That Bowled Bradman , as he had once disturbed the Don’s timbers in a county match. Moreover, Bradman had scored only 200 or so at the time.
At any rate the case has been made and the position is clear. Although it is too late to change the way a teenager holds the bat, coaches responsible for inculcating little fellows in the glories of the game ought at least to leave them to their own devices. Pressed, they should advise them to put their strongest hand on top of the bat. Many youngsters bat right-handed by default. Might be a matter of equipment or imitation. Left to themselves, they will often stand in the way currently and erroneously described as “left-handed”.
Oh, and just to complete the argument, think about the contemporary greats, Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar. Have you ever seen the West Indian hit a golf ball? Or the Indian play table tennis? The prosecution rests.