Ken Jones: Mickelson and Lara champion the left-handed cause

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The Independent Online

From one leftie to another, as Phil Mickelson put it when receiving the green jacket from Mike Weir after victory in the Masters last Sunday. If that wasn't enough along came another member of the cackhanded sporting fraternity to dominate the sporting headlines. First Mickelson, considered to be the best golfer never to win a major until he finally cracked it at Augusta, then Brian Lara who reclaimed the record for a Test match innings with a marvellous 400 not out against England in Antigua.

Probably on the basis of coincidence nothing was made of the connection in newspapers and across the airwaves but it set me thinking about a personal fascination with sports performers who, as my American friends would say, operate on the wrong side of the plate. It goes back to 1948 when, as a teenager I saw an 18-year old Neil Harvey announce his great career with a century for Australia. From then on I was hooked. Not all left-handers conformed to that early impression of style, indeed some were downright stodgy in application, but the best of them invariably lived up to expectations. Their feats resonated in the mind.

Speaking before setting out to defend his title at Augusta National last week, Weir recalled asking Jack Nicklaus whether he should turn himself around, which is the advice frequently given to left-handed golfers of tender years. Among Weir's thoughts was the knowledge that Bob Charles, The Open champion in 1963 was the only left-hander to have won a major, and the difficulties he was having with equipment. "Jack told me to stay as I was," Weir said. It was good advice, however the scarcity of left-handers on the American and European tours suggests that it is rarely echoed in teaching establishments.

Cricket is a different ball game. I imagine that few people would disagree with the view that no player has brought more effective fluency to it than Sir Garfield Sobers who batted and bowled left-handed to such a degree of proficiency that no equal as an all-rounder has ever been seen. Sobers at the crease or running in to deliver the ball was a glorious sight.

A friend whose opinions I value suggests that left-handers are more likely to be ambidextrous. This certainly applies to the former England cricket captain Brian Close who got down to a single figure golf handicap playing both ways. The great hero Denis Compton was a marvellously inventive right-handed batsman and a naturally left-footed footballer of distinction in Arsenal's colours.

A personal list of the 10 greatest footballers in history includes Ferenc Puskas and Diego Maradona. Puskas' right foot was purely for standing on. One of the most vivid images in the game's history is of him embarrassing Billy Wright by dragging the ball back with sole of his left boot before firing one of the six goals with which Hungary demolished England at Wembley in 1953. It was said of Maradona that his left foot had the sensitivity of a hand.

In boxing no southpaw had put his name to at least a version of the heavyweight championship until Micheal Moorer in 1992. Jim Wicks, manager of Henry Cooper referred to the breed as "poison". "They should be strangled at birth," he once said in a moment of frustration. Starting off as a southpaw, Cooper was persuaded to adopt an orthodox stance which led to the development of his famed left hook.

Though unseen, one of my sporting heroes is Ted Williams the Boston hitter who flew fighters in World War 11 and the Korean conflict. It was said that Williams could hush a room just by entering. That there was a force that boiled up from him and commanded attention. This he came to accept as his destiny and his due, just as he came to accept the maddening, if respectful, way that opponents pitched around him, or the way every fan in the ballpark seemed always to watch his every move.

The loss of my lower right arm in an accident eleven years ago turned me into a leftie. Once over the shock I found the experience interesting. I was a stranger in a right-handed world. Some of my responses to messages from the brain were disconcertingly awkward. Gradually, I got on top of the problem but my left-handedness is not a natural state. Lara and Mickelson were born that way. Not a hindrance but a blessing.