The necessary evil of the left-arm pacer
Tresses waving in the air, nonchalance in the eyes and charisma written all over him, this is how Wasim Akram broke into the cricketing circles. Well, there were also two deliveries bowled to Chris Lewis and Allan Lamb that jagged a bit and made sure that teams all over the world issued a mandate of the requirement of a left arm quick who would just run through sides at will. Only if cricket was that simple.
Now, I feel like apologizing for starting with the most clichéd of cricketing folklore, but come on! It's clichéd for a reason. Okay, something that came really close to Wasim's moment of brilliance, Mitchell Aaron Starc finishing off the World Cup Final in 2015 in essentially five balls. Three consecutive beauties to unsettle, rattle and knock over perhaps the most enterprising batsman in the tournament, Brendon McCullum.
The guy who carried his heart on his sleeve showed the world a whole new brand of cricket; Martin Crowe in 1992 comes to mind. But unlike his hero Crowe, Baz didn't need a Greatbatch. He struck at two runs a ball and made it look like the worse of the Paul brothers' obnoxious hip-hop song. When he skipped down the pitch to hit Dale Steyn all the way over extra cover, the shot had "It's Everyday Bro" written all over it. This is the McCullum that Starc seared through with a brute of a yorker. Glorious, right? Sign me up a left arm quick immediately, you say?
It's not that simple, will you just listen for once?
The catch here is that the kind of pacers we have under the microscope comes with a baggage, also called the Wahab Riaz syndrome. Mitchell Johnson once got diagnosed and believe me, it wasn't a pretty sight. You wouldn't see a lot of bowlers bowling off-side, leg-side and overhead wides in a Test match. Johnson somehow managed to do it at the woebegone Gabba Test in 2010.
Similarly, Zaheer Khan completely lost the plot in the 2003 World Cup final. Sandwiched between stints as one of India's finest death bowlers, Ashish Nehra went through a phase where he was more meme (triggered by AB de Villiers and Saurabh Tiwary's heist in the final over of an IPL game) than cricketer. Another one, Wayne Parnell, bowled more erratic spells than the number of different haircuts he has had. Believe me, that is a huge figure. So, amidst the cacophony of these left arm seamers being carted all over the park, where is the dream Wasim made us believe in?
Sit down folks, we're going to stroll through the memory lanes that will make you believe. Nobody can forget that prodigy Mohammad Amir being absolutely unplayable in England in 2010. Batsmen had no answers to him, be it him angling into the right hander from around the wicket or summoning the demons of reverse swing to disturb the timber of left-handed batsmen from the same side of the wicket.
If you think about it, the angle he has to produce to get the ball back into the southpaw's stumps is absolutely ridiculous. It was the norm for him. Seven years later, with doubts surrounding his effectiveness after a long unsolicited hiatus from the game, he recreated the magic of that bright-eyed teen he once was when he set the world on fire. 2017 Champions Trophy final, defending a total against a team that had humiliated them in recent times, social media having already written Pakistan off, Amir recreated the magic by dismissing India's potentially greatest ODI batsman twice off two balls. How you ask? It's the left arm, you novice!
Mitchell Johnson's comeback from the wilderness in the 2013/14 Ashes has to be one of the greatest cricketing stories. Just when he was named in the squad, Barmy Army went into a frenzy hoping a repeat of his dark days. But, they instead had to see their beloveds crash against Johnson who basically became a one-man demolition job, grounding the English scores and careers into capitulation.
He made them sway, duck, jump, fend, back away, scared of the cricket ball. He smashed Alastair Cook's castle with utter disdain, coerced KP into playing an ugly slog and made Matthew Prior literally run for cover. Carnage!
So, why do the left arm pacers blow so hot and cold? There's a simple explanation. Unlike right arm bowlers, they bowl with a slightly angled arm. Hence, it becomes a cardinal sin for them to err in length, while right arm bowlers, bowling with a relatively straightened arm, just have to get their line right and peg away in the corridor, and anyone who has the slightest experience of being on a cricket pitch will agree, without any qualms, that out of line and length, the former is much easier to execute.
The science involved is simple. It's much more convenient to guide the ball into a particular channel out of the hand rather than imparting a very certainly specific amount of force to it and that too at the correct release point. This is where it gets intriguing. Once a left arm seamer finds his rhythm, he can bowl bouncers at the awkward side of the non-batting arm from over the stumps, the inswinger that all left-handed batsmen despise and if need be, just come around the wicket to the right-hander and use the natural angle to try and straighten one off the pitch. Like that satanic peach of a delivery that James Vince copped in the Ashes Down Under 2017.
Vive le bras gauche!