Aakash Chopra
Aakash Chopra Aakash ChopraRSS FeedFeeds  | Archives
Former India opener; author of Beyond the Blues, an account of the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy season

Why left-arm seamers are a handful

When left is right

Aakash Chopra on just why left-arm seam bowlers can be more than a handful

Aakash Chopra

August 8, 2007

Text size: A | A



Ryan Sidebottom is ecstatic he's a left-hander © Getty Images
Enlarge
The last two Tests, which featured some magnificent bowling from Zaheer Khan, RP Singh and Ryan Sidebottom, have served to reiterate one old yearning of mine: I wish I had been born a left-hander.

Every time I go back to play at my home club in Delhi, I see an ever-increasing crop of left-arm pacemen, young, eager, and ready to set the world on fire. Gone is the time when these kids wanted to be a Kapil or a Srinath; now, Zaheer, Ashish Nehra, Irfan Pathan, even RP, are their heroes.

Cricket is heavily biased in favour of left-handers, whether batsmen or bowlers. About 30 per cent of batsmen are left-hand players, and there are more than a few left-arm spinners about - including part-timers - but left-arm seam bowlers are a rare (and generally precious) commodity. It's not every day that you get to face a left-arm seamer. And a left-arm quick who can bring the ball back into the right-hand batsman is even harder to find. This has been a rare Test series, one where we have had three quality left-arm swing bowlers in action in conditions conducive for swing bowling.

When you're facing a left-arm seamer you immediately have to open up your stance a bit, from the toes to the upper body, to have a complete view of the bowler and the path of the ball. It is one of the few instances in cricket when you are advised not to stay side-on, for if you remain side-on you'll only be able to see the bowler from the corner of your eye, and that would impair your judgment. So, before he has bowled a ball, the bowler has forced the batsman to make an adjustment.

Left-arm seam seamers have the special gift of making the straight ball look like it has done something when it slants across a batsman. It's just the angle taking the ball away from the right-hander, but from 22 yards away it feels like it's going away rather than just travelling in a straight line. In these conditions the batsman can always do with a bit of extra bounce, as it was when India played in Australia in 2003-04. Nathan Bracken and our left-arm bowlers consistently made the ball hold its line, and even dart back in, but as a batsman you could always trust the bounce to take it over the top of the stumps if you misread an inswinger for a straight one.

Also, you can live with the ball that slants across, as the leg-before option is ruled out. If a ball of this sort is going on to hit the stumps, it invariably pitches outside leg stump; and if it pitches in line, the angle takes it away from the stumps.

But as soon as the ball starts swinging in to the right-hander, in the air and off the surface, a host of new possibilities open up. As a batsman your first instinct is to get the pad out of the way, because the leg-before is a left-arm swing bowler's bread-and-butter dismissal. So you tend to play inside the line, and sometimes even with a short stride forward to ensure that you play with the bat.

It's easier to go a lot more forward, and probably outside the line, to a right-arm inswing bowler, but you can't do that with a left-armer for two reasons. One, since you're standing with your stance open, it's almost impossible to go that far across. Second, and more important, the natural swing tends to finish within the stumps because of the angle the ball is bowled from. A right-arm inswing bowler tends to bowl from wider of the crease and the angle takes the ball down the leg side, but that's not the case with the left-arm bowler.



Hard to handle: Zaheer gets Vaughan in the first innings at Trent Bridge © Getty Images
Enlarge

The toughest part of facing a left-armer is when the ball is swinging in the air and off the surface. This allows the bowler to pitch it way outside the off stump. Sometimes it shapes back in and on other occasions it just holds its line. Both can be dangerous. Under normal circumstances, if the ball is pitched way outside off stump it doesn't come in enough after pitching to be lethal. It's a fine line, though. An inch to one side is too much, and an inch to the other puts it in the danger zone. We saw the batsmen feel for the ball a lot in the last two Tests. It wasn't because they couldn't judge the line; it was more because they were worried about these crucial inches.

If all this isn't complicated enough, there's more in the left-arm seamer's armoury. Once the ball gets a little old, he can come around the stumps and cause problems of a different sort. The law that says "the ball doesn't come in if it pitches this far outside the off stump" doesn't hold true anymore because of the point of delivery. The natural angle takes the ball into the batsman. So even if it doesn't really swing, the angle is enough to put doubts in the batsman's mind.

And then, if you can get one to hold its line, like the delivery from Zaheer to Michael Vaughan in the first innings at Trent Bridge, it is just too good to handle. The ball did not swing a lot in the air, but the angle forced Vaughan to play at it, only for him to find it straightening after pitching.

We haven't seen too much reverse swing in this series, but if it starts happening, these left-arm bowlers will become even more lethal. And given that India have two, that should be good news for them.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is currently playing league cricket in Staffordshire, and for the MCC

RSS Feeds: Aakash Chopra

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

FeedbackTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print
Aakash ChopraClose
Aakash Chopra Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.
Related Links

'Chanderpaul was always out to prove himself'

Modern Masters: Playing in a weak team, his single-minded focus is to be the best he can be

    The Bangladesh album

ESPNcricinfo XI: A look at the side's international highlights: from shocking Pakistan in 1999 to whitewashing New Zealand

South Africa's domestic spinners eye their chance

Firdose Moonda: Ahead of the first-class season, we look at the players the selectors will be watching closely

    Catch dodgy actions early

Ian Chappell: Kids mimic the cricket heroes of the day, so the problem of throwing must be tackled below the first-class level

Four Pakistan women to watch in the Asian Games

Ahmer Naqvi: A look at two bowlers and two batsmen who could be crucial to their campaign in Incheon

News | Features Last 7 days

Champions League T20 still battling for meaning

The thrills are rather low-octane, the skills are a bit lightweight, and the tournament overly India-centric

Automaton, man, inspiration

Twenty years on, Shivnarine Chanderpaul continues to be understated, underestimated. And that doesn't bother him. What's not to like?

Busy keepers, and Waqar's bowleds

Also, high scores and low averages, most ducks in international cricket, and the 12-year-old Test player

85 Tests, 70 defeats

Of the 85 Tests that Bangladesh have played so far, they've lost 70 and won just four. Those stats are easily the worst among all teams when they'd played as many Tests

'My kind of bowling style is gone now'

Former New Zealand seamer Gavin Larsen talks about wobbly seam-up bowling, the 1992 World Cup, and his role in the next tournament

News | Features Last 7 days