Cricket: The right to use the left-hander

Tony Cozier finds nothing sinister in Lloyd's list of batsmen
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The Independent Online
NOT SURPRISINGLY the left-handed bias to the West Indies batting in this World Cup does not bother Clive Lloyd. "It's just coincidence that our best players at present bat left because you always play your best men," the West Indies team manager, once one of the game's great left-handers, said of the likely top order for tomorrow's Group B match against New Zealand at Southampton.

"We tend to be in the minority so a lot of bowlers don't like bowling at left-handers," he added. "The ideal is to have a right-left combination, especially at the top of the order, and we have that with Sherwin Campbell and Ridley Jacobs. What is good about our left-handers is that they're all quite different in their styles and their approach - and they're pretty useful players as well."

The attention, inevitably, centres on Brian Lara. His breathtaking batting in the recent Test series against Australia re-established a reputation undermined by the indifference and indiscipline that followed his record- breaking feats of 1994. Only Sachin Tendulkar (and, perhaps another left- hander, Lance Klusener) is as feared by opponents in this tournament.

Favouring a painful right wrist, the legacy of a blow from Jacques Kallis in Durban on 27 January, Lara has had very little cricket since withdrawing midway through the one-day series against Australia in the Caribbean which preceded the World Cup, and it has shown.

He has been out of touch in his two brief innings so far (11 off nine balls against Pakistan, 25 off 25 balls against Bangladesh) but he did not do much in the 1996 World Cup either before blazing 111 off 94 balls to upset South Africa in the quarter-final in Karachi.

The New Zealanders tomorrow and the Australians next Sunday will be wary of such a scenario, but Lloyd's point that the batting is more than simply Lara is supported by statistics.

While the captain has gone nine one-day internationals without a 50, his fellow left-handers Jacobs, Jimmy Adams and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, along with the right-handed Campbell, have taken up the slack. Campbell, long considered technically and temperamentally unsuited to the abbreviated game, was reinstated against the Australians and averaged nearly 45 an innings.

Jacobs, the wicket-keeper, became his new partner against Australia. A left-hander in the Jayasuriya/Klusener mould, an uncomplicated hitter with a lumberjack's wrists and forearms, he has had three half-centuries and shared stands of 83, 81, 99 and 67 with Campbell in his six innings at the top. It was a role assigned during the previous World Cup to Chanderpaul, who averages 46 in 20 innings going in first. He has made his two hundreds as an opener, the second a breathtaking150 against South Africa in East London last January.

A dislocated right shoulder near the end of the South African tour kept Chanderpaul inactive for over two months and eliminated him from the Tests against Australia. He was back at the top for the first two one-day matches but, when flu laid him low, Jacobs was promoted and Chanderpaul went in No 4 on his return. In contrast to the bludgeoning power of Jacobs and the all-round strokeplay of Lara, Chanderpaul is a bottom-hand puncher and deflector. Slim and athletic, he has nevertheless filled out appreciably since he waddled out in oversized pads on his Test debut in 1994, aged 19.

He has become, Lara not necessarily excluded, the most adaptable batsman in the side, capable of holding together a crumbling innings, as he did with 77 out of 202 in the loss to Pakistan at Bristol, and accelerating at better than a run a ball, as in his East London classic.

Dependability and a return to form brought Adams back against the Australians at No 3. "One down is a very important position," Lloyd said. "Whoever comes in there has to assess the situation and play accordingly, rebuilding things if a wicket falls early, then working the ball around when the field drops back after 15 overs. Jimmy has the experience, temperament and technique to adjust."

Another of tomorrow's left-handers is likely to be Keith Arthurton, whose fleet-footed fielding and slow-medium bowling, rather than his batting, keep him in the side. His confidence was shot in the previous tournament by scores of 1, 0, 0, 1, 0, but he still has two Test hundreds to his name.

Lloyd is accustomed to West Indies teams inclined to left-handedness. He shared his first Test innings with Gary Sobers, followed Roy Fredericks and Alvin Kallicharran to accumulate his match-winning 102 in the first final back in 1975 and later had Larry Gomes as a middle-order ally. "No, I don't think we have too many left-handers," he said, with good reason.