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September 4, 1997


Cricket Commentary/Harsha Bhogle

These Left Handed Compliments Hurt

Saeed Anvar A couple of weeks ago, a magazine article proclaimed that Saurav Ganguly was the finest left-hand batsman India had produced. I've always been an admirer of Ganguly's great skill and ability but had rarely thought enough to give him such a place in history within a year of his Test debut. And so, out of academic interest, and some curiosity, I tried taking a look at all, or most, of the left-handers who have batted for India.

It set me thinking because our association with left-handers is a decidedly weird one. We have hardly any home-bred left-handers and maybe, as a logical outcome of that, overseas left-handers have always scored heavily against us.

Let's take a look at two little lists I came up with. List 1 is made up of left-handers that I have either seen myself or know a fair deal about and list 2 is made up of those I know very little about; in fact I had to a bit of checking to see if they were indeed left-handers.

List 1 is Saurav Ganguly, Vinod Kambli, Woorkeri Raman, Surinder Amarnath, Eknath Solkar, Ajit Wadekar, Rusi Surti, Salim Durrani, Ambar Roy, Bapu Nadkarni, Nari Contractor, Karsan Ghavri.

List 2 is Gul Mohammad, Dady Havewala, Khandu Rangnekar and Deepak Shodhan.

Now how many people in that list would stand up against the likes of Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Hazare, Merchant, Umrigar, Mankad, Manjrekar, Vishwanath, Vengsarkar, Azharuddin, Mohinder Amarnath, Shastri? The aggregate of Test centuries in that list of 12 cricketers is 13 and seven of those come from Ganguly and Kambli who made their debuts in 1996 and 1993 respectively. By contrast, the twelve right-handers I have listed beneath have 144. Add Kapil Dev to that list and you have 152! And if you want it to be skewed even further add Navjot Sidhu, Pankaj Roy, Tiger Pataudi and Dilip Sardesai.

I remembered a few conversations I had with Ravi Shastri on Inside Edge and his theory was that because a majority of batsmen are right-handed, bowlers do not always build up an armoury of weapons against left- handers. Everything, including line and movement, follow naturally when you are bowling to right-handers. With a leftie in front of you instead of a view of the outside edge, you see a butt and a pad and a person who is invariably brilliant at flicking what would have been a great outswinger through the leg side.

The logical extension to this exercise therefore, was to compile records of left-handers against India. That would be mammoth and so, bowing to that great combination of laziness and convenience, I decided to put together a list of cricketers from the top of my mind who, in recent times, had scored a lot of runs against India. It is a bewildering list. It is staggering and you would imagine that all you have to do to score runs against India, if that ever becomes a problem, is to hold the bat the other way!

Here goes (and remember this list could be far bigger if someone went through records). Aamer Sohail and Saeed Anwar from Pakistan, Sanath Jayasuriya and Arjuna Ranatunga from Sri Lanka (Asanka Gurusinha scored a few too), Jimmy Adams (remember Adams from 1994?), Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul from the West Indies, Stephen Fleming (nineties on debut in Test and one-day cricket against India) from New Zealand, Andy Flower and Alastair Campbell from Zimbabwe, Gary Kirsten from South Africa and Graham Thorpe from England.

Anwar and Jayasuriya have set all kinds of batting records against India; Ranatunga scored a magical 131 recently when Sri Lanka looked in trouble; Chanderpaul got his first Test century and a basketful of runs in the West Indies earlier this year as did Jimmy Adams three years ago; Gary Kirsten scored a century in each innings at Calcutta and even Lance Klusener got a century in South Africa. And the only time India came close to taking the advantage in England last year, Thorpe made 89 and Jack Russell scored a century.

And we haven't played Australia, with Taylor, Elliott, Hayden, Langer and Bevan for a long time !

If you are willing to cast your mind just a bit further back, remember India's tour of Australia in 1986 when we twice allowed winning matches to end in draws. Match saving innings were played by Allan Border and Greg Mathews. And a year later, hoping to beat Pakistan at Bangalore, India were defied by the left-handed batting of Iqbal Qasim.

It is not surprising then that India's bowlers hate bowling to left- handers. Had there been quality left-handers to bowl against the bowlers might have been better prepared. Let us, since we are at it, look at some of the top domestic batsmen. Leading left-handers in recent times have been, apart from Ganguly and Kambli, Raman, Robin Singh, Sarath, Khurasia and now, Kanitkar. Not a particularly scary list!

One Test match bowler told me, jokingly, that left-handers should be banned and as I scan the list of bowlers that have played for India, I can only come up with one who was really good and another who did a decent job. Aashish Kapoor bowls quite well to left-handers and Javagal Srinath is outstanding because his normal direction takes the ball away from them.

Sanath Jayasuriya History has shown that the greatest ball in the game is the outswinger with the leg break a close second. That is because both leave the right- hander. A good player always finds it easier to play the incoming ball rather than the outgoing one. It is the other way with less pedigreed batsmen, one reason why in-swingers knock out the tailenders!

Even a cursory analysis would suggest that what India needs are in-swing and off break bowlers and that we need some way of getting our bowlers to bowl oftener at left-handers. It is not impossible and the best solution at the moment would be to call Sarath, Khurasia and Kanitkar to join the Indian camp purely to allow our bowlers to bowl at them. It won't quite be like bowling at Anwar or Kirsten but it will at least help them with things like line and length.

A couple of years ago, the South Africans, perturbed that they had no spinners, and therefore no batsmen who could play them confidently, organised a camp for spinners under Ashley Mallett (specially flown in for the assignment from Australia). They then called the leading batsmen of the country to bat against them in the nets. It struck me then that they had, having looked at their itinerary and seen six Tests coming up against India (and a few against Shane Warne) decided to prepare themselves.

Foresight and planning are pretty good tools to possess. Being laidback isn't the best way to counter them. While there is no discussion at all on how to counter left-handers in our cricket administration, a letter from the MRF Academy to the Indian Cricket Board has gone unanswered. The Academy is currently training a lot of overseas bowlers and hardly any Indians.


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