Wanderers Cricket Club
Cricket's left-handed batsmen really do have an advantage at the crease, according to an analysis of the stats.

Scientists who studied the World Cup found these players hit more runs, batted longer and tended to lose their wickets only because they slogged out.

But the explanation for this better performance is not so straightforward.

The researchers think the bowler's experience of left-handers is crucial because the advantage is less evident at the highest levels of the sport.

Hand to hand

These bowlers may not have the experience to deal so readily with a player taking up the alternative stance and get hammered to the boundary more often.

"It's strategic in the sense that left-handers only have the advantage when they are rare," says Dr Rob Brooks, from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

"The more competitive the game is, the more left-handers there are and as a consequence of that the advantage decreases."

The explanation is subtle but very important. If it was simply that left-handed batsmen were better than right-handers, then the alternative stance would completely dominate the top echelons of the sport.

What is more, it is only in the interactive sports such as cricket, tennis, fencing and boxing that the numbers of left-handers making the top grade are higher than would be expected from their frequency in the general population (10-13% of individuals are left-handed).

Similar success is not witnessed in more general sports where players do not come face to face, argue Dr Brooks and colleagues in a paper published in Biology Letters, a journal of the Royal Society, the UK's academy of science.

The team studied the group matches from the World Cup. They found that out of the 177 players who went to the crease, 42 - that is 24% of the total - were left-handed.

The left-handers were found to score an average of 20 runs per innings compared with 11 for right-handers. They also stayed out in the middle for longer - for an average of 25 versus 15 balls.

Evolution study

"The frequency of left-handers in the top three places in the batting order was 47%, falling to 12% among the last three batsmen, suggesting that left-handed batsmen enjoy an advantage in one-day international cricket," they write in their paper.

Interestingly, the team tested the often-quoted assumption of commentators that a combination of a left-hander and a right-hander at the crease is the most difficult to bowl at.
Dr Brooks says: "Their rationale is that it breaks up the bowler's ability to bowl a particular line and length, but if you look at all the partnerships there were in the World Cup - including two left-handers or two right-handers together - there is no evidence that this particular combination is any more successful."

As biologists, the team is interested in this kind of study because it allows them to examine why certain traits in a population spread only so far among individuals - even when those traits may confer an evolutionary advantage.

"It is not too long ago that a really important determinant of your evolutionary fitness and your success - certainly as a male - was tied up in your ability to fight, and this could be a very good explanation as to why we still have 10-13% left-handers in the population."