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 Akram's Legacy: The Importance Of Being Left-Handed

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PostSubject: Akram's Legacy: The Importance Of Being Left-Handed   Thu Aug 02, 2007 7:29 pm

It is hard to believe that the attention of India's cricket cognoscenti was focused anywhere this week except on the Trent Bridge ground in Nottingham, England, where its team scored a seven-wicket victory over England to go 1-0 up with one match to play in the series.
But the more visionary folk in the game in India may just have noticed an announcement from somewhere south of Nottingham.
Researchers at Oxford University believe they have found a gene that increases the odds of being left-handed. Certainly, if a way is ever found of manufacturing this gene, Indian cricket would be a potential customer.
At Trent Bridge, it was the lefties that won it.
India, unusually, has two left-arm quick bowlers on its current team. Zaheer Khan, swinging the ball with pace and control both into and away from batsmen, took nine of the 20 English wickets to fall during the match, making him an easy choice for Man of the Match. Rudra Pratap (R.P.) Singh took only three, but this included dismissing Kevin Pietersen - England's most dangerous batsman - for low scores in each innings.
England also has a lefty quick bowler. Ryan Sidebottom bowled as well as at any time in his short international career, but he had atrocious luck and only took one wicket.
Khan's performance, his best ever in 49 tests for India, took him past 150 wickets. As the number of test matches proliferates, such landmarks begin to feel commonplace. At the end of 1987, there were 40 bowlers who had taken 150 wickets in tests. Khan is the 80th, a doubling in a little less than 20 years.
In another sense, though, he is a rarity. Those 80 bowlers divide neatly at just over two pacemen (53) to one spinner (26), with the prodigious West Indian bowler Garry Sobers falling into both categories.
Khan is only the fourth of the pacemen to bowl left-handed (as did Sobers). Few question the standing of Wasim Akram of Pakistan, who took 414 wickets in 104 test matches between 1985 and 2002, as the greatest of all left-arm pacemen. Chaminda Vaas of Sri Lanka has taken 319 wickets in 98 tests since 1994. Before both came the Australian Alan Davidson, who took 185 wickets in 44 matches spread over a decade in more leisurely times, between 1953 and 1963.
The extent of Khan's achievement is further underlined by the figures for England. It fielded an excellent left-arm quick bowler, Tom Emmett, purveyor of a lethal delivery he christened the "sostenuter" - a ball pitching on the leg stump and then breaking sharply toward the off bail - in the first test match ever at Melbourne in 1877. Yet, in the 130 years since, no English left-arm quick has succeeded in taking 100 wickets in tests. Bill Voce, who played from 1932 to 1946, is closest with 98.
It is hard to see why the left-arm quick bowler should be such a rarity. In any adversarial sport there are advantages to being a minority. Southpaw boxers, left-arm baseball pitchers like Tom Glavine of the New York Mets - who is seeking his 300th victory - and left-handed tennis players like John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova all present their opponents distinctive problems. For a cricket team rotating four or five bowlers, there are great advantages to having one or two who test batsmen from a different angle.
Cricket has long cherished its left-handed batsmen and slow left-arm bowlers. This may perhaps help explain the dearth of pacemen - that left-handers showing an aptitude for cricket are likely to be encouraged to go into other disciplines. England's recent slow left-armer Ashley Giles started life bowling fast-medium before changing to spin.
India, though, has always been different. In spite of Khan's ascent, the team still pretty much inverts other countries' pace/spin relationship among its takers of 150 test wickets or more, with seven spinners among the 11 who have done it and another, Subhash Gupte, next on the list at 149.
So perhaps we should not be surprised that its pacemen are also different. Khan and Singh have other left-arm rivals. Singh's selection followed the, hopefully temporary, eclipse of Irfan Pathan, still only 22, and at 28, Ashish Nehra should not yet despair of a recall.
They were at the perfect, impressionable age to admire and wish to emulate another left-handed cricketer. Wasim's final legacy to cricket may be across a disputed border in another country.
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