Have you ever noticed that a large percentage of opening batsmen in professional male cricket are left handed?
Let’s look at the Australian team as an example. Since the year 2000, there have been 18 opening batsmen. 12 of these have been left-handers and 6 of these right-handers (including Glenn Maxwell’s brief stint).
Is there a reason for this?
The opening batters are required to face a new ball. For those unaware, a new cricket ball – particularly in Test cricket (which is the longer version of the game) – can easily swing laterally in the air if the seam is positioned correctly. Hence, opening bowlers will usually aim to make the ball swing so that it is more challenging for the batter.
Many opening bowlers are right-arm bowlers. And right arm bowlers tend to swing the ball from right to left, whereas left-arm bowlers tend to swing the ball from left to right (although the best players can do both). This means that right-arm bowlers tend to swing the ball away from right-hand batters and in towards left-hand batters.
Why does this matter?
The challenge of facing out-swing bowling
There are at least two reasons why left-handers are better equipped to opening the batting.
First, a ball that swings away from the batter (out-swing) is more likely to produce an edge which can be caught by the slip fielders. This is a common method of dismissing a batter – meaning their time batting is over.
Second, it was recently shown in a well controlled study with elite cricket players that it is more difficult to strike out-swingers than in-swingers. The authors explained this result by discussing how humans perceive moving objects.
“The impending location of a target that follows a curvlinear trajectory is specified by the combination of changes in the lateral deviation of the target from the viewpoint of the observer (i.e., the bearing angle), and the optical size of the ball. Given that the optical size of the ball is comparable at any given time point for the two flight-paths, the differences are likely to be best explained by the perceieved differences in the change in bearing angle. The asymmetrical positioning of the batter and the location of ball-release in a task such as cricket batting gives rise to a discrepency in the bearing angle across the two directions of swing.”
In short, it was suggested that it is more difficult to perceive changes in the rate of lateral deviation of the ball (i.e., the bearing angle) when it is swinging away from the batter compared to when the ball is swinging towards the batter.
Hence, left-handed batters should experience an advantage when facing right arm bowlers who swing the ball from right to left.
Sarpeshkar, V., Mann, D. L., Spratford, W., & Abernethy, B. (2017). The influence of ball-swing on the timing and coordination of a natural interceptive task. Human movement science, 54, 82-100.