This post is all about the success or otherwise of left handers and reverse stance test cricket players. About 10% of the worlds population is left handed yet they are well over represented in interactive sports such as cricket.
Chris McManus (Author of Right-Hand, Left-Hand) argues that left handers have produced an above-average quota of high achievers (especially in mathematics, music). While I don’t have a list of global high achievers I can definitely vouch for the high representation of left handers in interactive sports.
The argument for the advantage of lefties in interactive sports is simply the scarcity value. For example when you are learning to play cricket, 90% of the deliveries that you face in the nets will be from right arm bowlers. Similarly 90% of the deliveries you bowl will be to right handed batters. So bowling to a lefty means that you have to adjust your line from your usual stock ball. This slight scarcity value can mean a lot at elite levels and hence the argument that all things being equal, lefties have a marginal but slight advantage over right handers.
Cricket fanatics have all heard the commentators bang on about the value of left and right hand batting combinations to disrupt bowlers and create constant fielding changes.
What is the advantage of being a left handed batter?
I have tried to compile a collection of genuine test batsmen. From the list of all test players (1877 – Nov 2016) I have selected the players with at least 25 test matches, has a test batting average of at least 15 and bats in the first 7. The data is from the source of all cricket wisdom ESPN cricinfo .
By this criteria I have a total of 419 batsmen, 308 bat right handed and 111 bat left handed. That’s 36% left handed batsmen, so it would appear that lefties are well represented in test cricket. The average of the collective batting averages is 36.4 for right handers and marginally higher 36.7 for left handers – but there is nothing in that. However the right handers average is pulled up by Bradman with an off the charts batting average – so if we consider the median of both to avoid the extremes we get a median batting average for right handers of 36.2 and 37.8 for left handers (The median is the bar in the middle of the box in Figure 1). For the statisticians amongst you this 4.4% advantage of left handers over right handers is statistically significant (P <0.01).
That’s settled then, left handed batsmen clearly have a small but significant advantage over right handed batsmen……not so fast.
Figure 1: Batting average by handedness (the box is 25th-75th percentile range – mouse over the plot for tool tips)
What about unorthodox or reverse stance players?
A reverse stance player adopts a batting stance opposite to what you guess from their dominant handedness. There are a lot of cricketers who are reverse lefties, that is, they bat left handed (bottom hand is their left) yet their dominant hand is their right (i.e. they throw with their right). For example Brian Lara, Mark Taylor, Justin Langer, and Adam Gilchrist. These chaps have clearly cottoned on to the advantage of batting left handed – or have they.
Of the 111 left handed batsmen, most (69 of the 111 or 62%) are actually right handers who bat left handed (reverse stance left handers). The median of batting averages for this group of reverse lefties is 38.1 (Table 1, Figure 2) compared to 36.6 for orthodox lefties.
If we ignore the reverse stance batsmen for the moment, natural left handers have a very similar batting average to the natural right handers (36.6 compared to 36.2). That seems to marginalise the theory of the left handed advantage.
Compare the median of batting averages of reverse stance batsmen (38) with the median of batting averages of orthodox batsmen (36.2). That’s a 5% advantage (and yes for the statisticians the difference is significant P<0.01). To me the advantage looks to be all about being an unorthodox batsmen and adopting the reverse stance rather than being a lefty.
For the record, there are a few left handers who actually bat right handed (e.g. Michael Clark). The sample size for these reverse stance right handed batsmen is low (15) but they have the same median batting average as natural right handers.
Figure 2: Batting average by batting style and handedness (mouse over for tool tips)
Figure 3: Batting average for conventional and reverse stance batsmen (mouse over for tool tips)
Table 1: Batting averages by batting style
|All time||Since 1980|
|count||Median of batting average||count||Median of batting average|
|Right (any style)||308||36.2||201||36.3|
|Left (any style)||111||37.8||81||38.0|
Note – to determine the dominant handedness I have simply used the hand that ESPN crickinfo reports as their bowling hand as their dominant hand.
Why is there an advantage to adopting a reverse stance when batting?
Credit goes to my brother John who explained why this all makes sense. As a good batsman the finesse and control is mostly about the top hand. For unorthodox players their dominant hand is their top hand and their less dominant hand is their bottom hand (important for power but not so much for control).
Additionally, your dominant eye and dominant foot are forward when you adopt a reverse stance. Good batsmen use their feet to get to the pitch of the ball. If your dominant hand is on top of the bat, then your leading foot is your dominant foot (yes I can see you miming a forward defensive). So I reckon the combination of dominant hand for bat control and dominant foot forward cannot hurt.
What about the modern game?
So the first response to this post is “the game of cricket has changed so much – what about the modern game?” Table 1 and Figure 4 show that the trend is even a little stronger in the modern game. Don’t be too distracted by the apparently high value for reverse right handers in the modern game – there have only been 7 (MJ Clarke, InzamamulHaq, GW Flower, Ijaz Ahmed, RJ Shastri, R Bright, and L Rowe).
In the modern game the median batting average for reverse stance players is 38.2 and for orthodox stance players is 36.3 – about 3.5% difference.
Figure 4: Batting average by batting style for the modern game (since 1980) (mouse over for tool tips)
Teach kids to bat with a reverse stance
It might feel more comfortable for youngsters to bat with their dominant hand on the bottom of the grip – the conventional way to hold the bat. However the data shows that if they make it to the elite level they might get an advantage if they adopted a reverse stance.
For the sake of the future of Australian cricket I encourage you to ‘accidentally’ buy your kids the ‘wrong’ set of batting gloves to encourage them to try a reverse stance (and don’t tell your English friends about this post).
Revision of the prevalence of left handers
Now that we know about the reverse stance, whilst 36% bat left handed, only 14% of the batsmen are natural left handers. This is not so different from the 10% of the population that are lefties. So maybe left handers aren’t that over represented after all (I think I need to check the bowlers).
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