In our series Come to Think of It, we bring new perspectives to bear on received cricket wisdom. This week, we turn our attention to that old canard that left-hand batsmen are more elegant
There are beliefs and opinions that are passed down as fact by cricketing elders. Many of them we can use Statsguru, Wisden or Hawk-Eye to prove or disprove. But sometimes there isn't a definitive answer; sometimes when you're arguing with your friend in a pub, you can't just go look up the right answer. Like when they say left-hand batsmen are more attractive than righties - there are no historical documents or data to back up that argument.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or according to the bumper sticker on your drunk uncle's car, in the eye of the beer holder. So for the sake of future arguments, this principle will be the sole decider on the topic. You're welcome to your dissenting judgements - those I will not be interested in.
Iain Higgins, a host of the Grade Cricketer podcast, says, "Batting left-handed is cheating because you can't be bowled or lbw unless you make an enormous error and everyone just bowls on your pads." Of course so much of international bowling is right-arm over-the-wicket seam, and so left-handers have to deal with footmarks much more than right-handers, but Higgins makes a decent point. Unlike in many sports, being left- or right-handed with the bat has massively different implications.
To start with, are we even correct in referring to left- and right-handers that way? In baseball or golf - also two-handed hitting sports - what side of the bat/club we stand on is the same as in cricket. But these are different kinds of hitting. In baseball and golf, the top hand is not as important as it is in cricket, where a premium is on placement. Many left-hand batsmen are actually right-handed in life, generally, and throw and bowl with their right arms. So in batting, some right-handed people feel more natural as left-hand batsmen - like Michael Hussey, who decided as a seven-year-old one day to simply start batting left-handed. That's not something you see in bowling. There is a theory by some in cricket that what we call right-hand is actually how left-handers should stand (with the stronger, more dominant left hand the top one in grip).
Hussey is not alone. Clive Lloyd, Adam Gilchrist and David Gower are right-handers except when batting. According to Statsguru there have been 286 players who batted left-handed but bowled right-handed, and 192 who batted right-handed but bowled left-handed. One way of looking at that is that nearly 16% of all Test cricketers (and not all of them bowl) could be called ambidextrous, where in society at large it's closer to 1% of the population. At the very least, it should tell us that what we call left- and right-handed in cricket is not so straightforward.
Maybe that explains how, in the history of cricket, 26% of the runs have been made by left-handers, even as most estimates have the number of left-handers in the general population at around 12%. So yeah, these so-called left handers are over-represented in cricket.
But are they prettier?
Let me expand. My first theory on whether they are more attractive is based on the fact they historically only represent 20% of batsmen, and even as that has risen to 31% since the turn of the century, that's still under one in three. The lower the level of cricket, the fewer left-handers you find. They're rarer, and that makes them seem exotic, and we tend to hypersexualise every little thing they do. If their number matched that of righties, they'd have less allure.
The angle helps. Most balls slant across left-handers, and that allows them to appear, to some eyes, more elegant while driving or slashing. They seem to always either be flicking balls that can't dismiss them lbw or slashing through point those going across. Those are sexy things, to be fair. In recent times, when Test bowlers have started to come around the wicket a lot more, left-handers haven't looked so elegant; in fact, they've been dismissed so fast, we've barely seen them look like anything.
Bowlers progress up the ranks in elite cricket based on their overall record, which is usually built on them being really good at bowling to right-handers. So left-handers are a bit of an unknown quantity for them. This may partially explain why left-handers have done so well. Also, records against left-handers aren't a metric people really look at when picking bowlers.
While 26% of all Test runs have been scored by lefties, they make up 34% of the top 50 run scorers. Five of the top ten Test run scorers are southpaws. So the ones we see bat the most are generally the best left-hand batsmen going (whereas right-hand batsmen are just a bigger sample) and usually the best batsmen look more attractive because they look like they have more time to play their shots.
Here's a list of the top ten right- and left-hand Test run scorers. Against each name I've put an X (not pretty) or a Y (pretty).
Top ten left-handers
Alastair Cook X
Kumar Sangakkara Y
Brian Lara Y
Shivnarine Chanderpaul X
Allan Border X
Graeme Smith X
Matthew Hayden X
David Gower Y
Garry Sobers Y
Justin Langer X
Top ten right-handers
Sachin Tendulkar Y
Ricky Ponting Y
Jacques Kallis Y
Rahul Dravid Y
Mahela Jayawardene Y
Steve Waugh X
Sunil Gavaskar X
Younis Khan X
Hashim Amla Y
Graham Gooch X
You can see by this incredibly foolproof scientific method that at elite batting levels, right-hand batsmen are prettier than lefties. According to me.
If you want actual proof that left-handers are not attractive, let's discuss some. Kepler Wessels batted like he was assaulting your eyes. Shivnarine Chanderpaul's technique was put together by his dad's Dr Frankenstein methods. Graeme Smith never met a ball he couldn't drag to leg; Alastair Cook had about three shots. Simon Katich was nicknamed the Krab. Dean Elgar is grimy. Allan Border looked like he was arm-wrestling his bat. David Warner has a weird back-of-the-length flick across the line that should be put in a tiny cage. You can have all the Gowers, Frank Woolleys, Brian Laras and Saeed Anwars you want, but as an entire species, they do not lean towards sexiness any more than right-handers.
Perhaps, if we are generous at all to the counter-argument, when a left-hander is pretty, they are mad hot. Superfine. But there are a lot of unpretty ones too. Are they more attractive on the whole? No. Do they provide some super sexies? Yes. Of course we're looking at batsmen as a whole. Sunil Gavaskar had a rushed method through the off side, but that same technique looked perfectly paced through the leg side. Matthew Hayden could look messy square of the wicket, but down the ground he had a muscular beauty.
That's the point, and of the lists above. You may disagree with the categories I've placed batsmen in. You may not notice the stoic grace of Dravid like I do (although more people than you might think thought he was pretty), and perhaps you find Kallis' textbook work robotic. That's because the truth is that anyone can decide a batsman is attractive. Beauty is subjective. I don't know much about art, but I know that I like a lot of modern batsmen, and about a third of them are left-handers. For me, batting's beauty has little to do with which hand goes where.
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