T20 WC 2024: Left is right in the world of fast bowling

There has been a significant rise in the number of left-arm seamers, especially in the T20 format. Former India bowling coach, B Arun, explains the reasons behind it
From left: Australia's Mitchell Starc, India's Arshdeep Singh and USA's Saurabh Netravalkar
From left: Australia's Mitchell Starc, India's Arshdeep Singh and USA's Saurabh NetravalkarPhoto | AP/AFP)

As the people of Nepal woke up to a heartbreak against South Africa on Saturday, Tabraiz Shamsi (4/19) was the man credited with triggering a collapse at the death.

One other name went unnoticed. Marco Jansen. In his four overs, the left-arm pacer gave away 16 runs, delivered 14 dot balls and was hit for just two boundaries. Jansen did not have a wicket to show, but his contribution was as crucial as Shamsi's in a defence of 115. It is not a one-off performance. This is what Jansen has been doing through the World Cup. In four matches, he has just two wickets, but has kept it tight with an economy of 4.48 runs per over.

Jansen is not an outlier. 

This is not about individuals. But rather about how a particular kind of bowler has been the ace in the pocket for most T20 sides across the globe. Left-arm pacers.

It is no secret that they are an anomaly. There is a reason why most quality left-arm pacers have been called an X-factor for their respective teams. Mitchell Starc, Trent Boult, Mustafizur Rahman, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Saurabh Netravalkar, Arshdeep Singh... Including the New Zealand-Uganda match on Friday, as many as 539 per cent balls from left-arm seamers have been dot balls. 

In the past two editions, the corresponding numbers were 45.3 % (2021) and 46.2 % (2022). It is not just about making it harder to hit, but also about wickets. Among the top eight wicket-takers in the ongoing T20 World Cup till Friday night, three are left-arm pacers. They have accounted for 61 wickets. In the 2021 and 2022 men's T20 World Cups, they took 94 and 88 wickets, respectively.

What makes them tick as a bowling option? Why are they harder to hit? Former India bowling coach B Arun explains: "One, batters don't not have enough practice against the similar kind of bowling. And two, the angles of a left-arm pace bowler are so different to a right-arm bowler. And they are quite adept at bowling both round and over the wicket. And for most right hand batters when the ball is going across them — even a right arm fast bowler can bowl a line which is going across them, but it won't be as effective — it challenges the batter even more. The element of not enough practice against the left-arm seamers and the change of angle. These things can contribute to batters being a little more watchful about left-arm seamers."

While the variety left-arm seamers bring is crucial in any format, they become invaluable in the shortest format. Out of the eight World T20 men's finals, six have had at least one left-arm pacer in the final. In fact, in both 2021 and 2022, both finalists have called upon at least one left-arm pacer in the final (Boult, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Starc and Curran). Zoom out and you will realise that both Irfan Pathan (MVP in the 2007 final) and Curran (MVP of the 2022 edition) starred for their countries.  

So, understandably, teams are more keen on having them in the starting XI. One look at the rosters and it becomes evident. In 2024, as many as 18 of the 20 teams have at least one left-arm pacer. Netherland's Fred Klaassen withdrew while Nepal travelled without one. Arun admits how desperate India were for a left-arm pacer when he was with the team. "When we were coaching India, head coach Ravi Shastri very often said 'I missed a left-arm pacer' because they had a lot of variety. But it's not about having a left arm pacer for the sake of having them. It's about somebody who is quality, who can move the ball, who is pacy enough and has the skill set to be successful at this level. So, if there are two bowlers, a right-armer and the left-armer available, definitely the pick would be for the left-armer," Arun, part of the Coaching Beyond founding team along with Shastri and R Sridhar and heads their Chennai centre, told this daily.

Bharat Arun was the bowling coach of the 2024 IPL title-winning KKR team | IPL
Bharat Arun was the bowling coach of the 2024 IPL title-winning KKR team | IPL

While Arun acknowledges the variety and impact left-arm pacers have created at this WC (some extreme pitches have helped), he believes that in batter-friendly conditions, better quality pacers will prevail. "See, again as a bowler, what I would see is even if the conditions are not favourable, therein lies an opportunity for me to become a hero. In unfavourable conditions what are the skills that are required for me to make a match-winning performance is something which every bowler should need to realize. If the conditions are favourable, then it's different. But I feel IPL poses a bigger challenge because the conditions are more favourable towards the batters.

"That is when a good performance is noticed very well. Like the KKR boys, Starc, after the first half, came back. Harshit Rana, Vaibhav Arora, even Mayank Yadav and all other young fast bowlers who are coming up the ranks have been pretty impressive. In these other conditions, you just bowl stump to stump, you may get away with a few bad balls. But when it is batter-friendly, I think you need to have those special skills for you to be successful. You need to be very, very consistent and you need to execute what you want to. There's a difference between what you want to execute and whether you have executed it. And therein lies the difference between you bowling well or not bowling well. So I think when conditions are more batter-friendly, consistency of your execution skills make you that much of a better bowler," said Arun, who was the bowling coach of the 2024 IPL title-winning Kolkata Knight Riders team.

With teams seeking and embracing more left-arm pacers, the number of such bowlers coming up the ranks too have gone up over the years. From eight left-arm pacers at the 2007 T20 WC, the number has gone up to 20 in 2024 (till Friday; Obed McCoy and Curran are yet to play) with its share of ups and downs in the past decade. Though the numbers of teams have gone up, the number of quality pacers too have increased. 

"I think we have the luxury of having many more coming up the ranks and even around the world. So this is like suddenly you don't find left-arm leg spinners in the international scene. And after one big bowler has come in, you find when in due course many leg spinners have come up. I think it is a phase and a cycle and these things keep happening. One top bowler is enough to inspire the next generation," said Arun.

Indeed. With the T20 WC moving to its business end, there are quite a few left-arm pacers who could set the tournament alight and inspire the coming generation.

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