Left-handers are sizzling in South Africa

The left-hand bowlers and batsmen are making waves in the Indian Premier League in South Africa. Here S. Dinakar analyses why they are so successful in the Twenty20 format.

The left-hand batsmen and bowlers are shaping the destinies of their teams in the Indian Premier League. From Matthew Hayden to Jean-Paul Duminy, from Rudra Pratap Singh to Pragyan Ojha, these men have been in the news for the right reasons in South Africa.

The southpaws change the dynamics of a sport that is expected — as reflected in the coaching manuals — to revolve around the right handers.

They enter the field with certain inherent advantages which appear more pronounced in the Tweny20 version since the sides have lesser time to react or change strategy.

Take the left-handed batsman for instance. A right-arm paceman is forced to change his line while bowling at him. If a leg-cutter to a right-hander is his strength, such a ball would be on or outside the leg-stump to a left-hander.

When a bowler has only four overs — he has very little time to find rhythm and could be used in more that one spell — he has less space to bring about the changes.

If the right-arm paceman attempts to angle deliveries across the southpaw, he could end up providing width to the batsman. Round-the-wicket is not really a viable option — the bowler could err in line on either side. Hayden & Co. are certainly not the sort to miss out on offerings.

An inswing bowler, with an appropriate shift in angle, could probe the southpaw on or outside the off-stump. However, the away-going delivery has limited value in Twenty20 cricket. A single slip often disappears after the few early overs and there is an inherent danger of the ball flying to the boundary off the edge.

A right-arm paceman has to rely on fuller length, swing and changes in pace to contain or scalp a left-hander. Interestingly, a left-arm paceman operating from over-the-wicket and swinging them in from just outside the off-stump has a better chance of nailing the left-hander.

The spinners are also up against it while bowling at the southpaws. The leg-spinners could find the southpaws pulling or flicking them with the spin.

The wrong ’un is potentially a handy delivery. However, this ball will have to be bowled with precision. Flaws in length or direction are likely to prove expensive.

Like a leggie, a left-arm spinner runs the risk of being struck with the spin. Flight and revolution on the ball — the batsman is forced to pick the ball from above the eye level — are essential for a left-arm spinner to test a left-handed batsman. Despite the odds, the batsman can be drawn out and sold a dummy. And changes in pace would force a batsman to miscue a stroke.

Of course, the arm-ball — the delivery comes in with the arm and skids off the surface — can be a viable ploy against the southpaws. Delivering this ball, though, requires skill.

The off-spinners — normally the most effective bowlers against the southpaws — have very little margin for error in this format since they could so easily be cut or punched if the ball spins across the face of the blade. And a skipper is unlikely to have a slip in place for most part.

The doosra too has seldom been a factor against the left-handers. Actually, the off-spinners in the on-going IPL have attempted to cramp the left-hander by getting the ball to spin from leg to middle or off, denying the batsman room. While attempting this ploy, the bowler cannot afford to be too full; otherwise the sweep could come into play.

The left-handed batsmen add value and variety to the line-up. Mahendra Singh Dhoni said the other day that Chennai Super Kings wanted Hayden to bat right through the innings. Along the way he could combine with a right-hander and disrupt the rhythm of an attack.

Hayden (546 runs in 11 matches at 54.60, Strike Rate 145.21) has been the rock on which the Super Kings’ edifices have been built. Hayden has read the situations well and picked his moments to unleash the booming blows. Experience does help. Adam Gilchrist (372 runs in 12 games at SR 145.31) has been belligerent for Deccan Chargers, even if he has not displayed Hayden’s consistency. The nonchalant straight hits, the weighty strokes over mid-wicket and the savage pulls are on view as Gilchrist cuts loose.

Duminy (363 runs in 12 matches at 45.37, SR 113.79) has made runs in adversity for Mumbai Indians. He lacks flair — his willow comes down from a limited back-lift — but collects runs with clever placements on both sides of the pitch and the occasional big hits. With a flourishing back-lift, Suresh Raina is high on flamboyance. Raina (342 runs in 11 games at 31.09, SR 147.41) has sizzled for Chennai Super Kings.

And Yuvraj Singh (314 runs in 12 games at 31.40, SR 122.17) has delivered some typically meaty blows for Kings XI Punjab. Kumar Sangakkara (269 runs in 12 games at 29.88, SR 98.89) has made runs at the crunch for the same side.

The point to be noted here is that most of these batsmen belong to the top-order — the first three slots — and they do get an opportunity to face a larger number of balls.

Bowlers, though, are restricted to four overs. Rudra Pratap Singh (16 wickets in 12 games at 18.43, Economy Rate 6.75) and Ashish Nehra (16 from 10 at 17.43, ER 6.97) have made a lot of their deliveries count in the limited span.

Left-armer Rudra Pratap has swung the ball both ways at a lively pace and used the short-pitched delivery effectively for Deccan Chargers; with his strong wrists, he can surprise the batsmen with his bounce. Nehra, a natural swing bowler, has operated with verve for Delhi Daredevils. Both, Rudra Pratap and Nehra have explored the angles from over-the-wicket without sacrificing consistency. The full length ball, the one straightening, the delivery leaving the batsman and the alterations in speed and length have kept the batsmen guessing.

Left-arm pacemen, arguably, provide less width to the batsmen given the angle of release. For a right-handed batsman, making room to crash the left-armers through the off-side field is loaded with risks. The ball could either travel across or straighten. Or, it could travel across and still hit the off-stump.

This could be one of the reasons why Delhi Daredevils has a predominantly left-arm pace attack. Supporting Nehra are the lively Dirk Nannes (11 wickets from 10 games) and the steady Pradeep Sangwan (13 wickets from 11 matches).

Yusuf Abdulla of Kings XI Punjab (14 wickets from nine games at 17.21) is another left-arm paceman who has struck with his swing and switches in pace.

The pitches are showing increasing signs of wear and tear in the concluding stages of the South African season and left-armers Ojha and Shadab Jakati have had their moments. Ojha (13 wickets in 11 matches at 19.15, ER 6.14) has bowled with flight, subtle variations and deception. Jakati has employed the arm-ball well and held his nerve against the big names. Murali Karti has bowled a few lovely spells of control, revolution and dip for Kolkata Knight Riders.

These left-handers — batsmen and bowlers — are buzzing in Southern Africa.