Our recent England Ladder included nine players who would fall within the broad category of seamers, swingers and fast bowlers. Such are the resources available to England at present, that a few others could’ve been added as well, without too much complaint. However whereas there certainly is strength in depth, these bowlers share one characteristic. No, not that they’re all handsome as a saint, though Lord knows that they are. The trait we mean is that they all bowl right-handed.
This is undoubtedly the English way. Over the period that this website knows best, roughly from the release of The Stone Roses onwards, only a handful of left-arm ‘quicks’ have been selected and some of those are a rather dim bunch. Need we mention Mike Smith, Mark Illott, Simon Brown or Paul Taylor, who played a combined total of nine Tests? Alan Mullally may have been the world’s second best ODI bowler for about seventeen seconds, but his Test record was distinctly so-so (although his average of 31.24 is somewhat surprising). Ryan Sidebottom looked destined to be a One-Cap Wonder (as in “I wonder why that curly-haired numbskull ever played for England”) until he won a second cap six years after his debut. To be fair to him though, for a couple of years he was frankly disgustingly good, so much so that he is England’s second leading wicket-taker within this category, behind Bill Voce but ahead of John Lever.
Normally, this matters not one jot. England’s four-man pace attack around 2003/05 invariably were all northpaws. So were the great West Indian quartets from the 1970s and 80s. So why does this bother us so?
Firstly, because decent variation can only strengthen a team’s resources. But it’s partly because other countries now have left-arm quicks within their ranks, some of whom are beginning to look rather decent. Doing a quick chi-squared analysis of New Zealand’s bowlers proves – unequivocally – that 65% of the country’s entire population are within this category. Australia’s Lidl checkout belt of fast bowlers includes the two Mitchells, both that way inclined, although Starc is different to Johnson in his action and angle, as well as his line, length and ability. Pakistan have Junaid Khan (we’ll gloss over Mohammad Amir) and although Zaheer Khan and Chaminda Vaas have both retired – or as near as dammit retired – it looks as if the future will have more left-armers than the past. However this does seem to be a relatively recent trend. Of the 11 left-arm quicks to have taken 100 Test wickets, four played no earlier than 1999 (Irfan Pathan, Pedro Collins, Johnson and Khan); oddly not one debuted before the Second World War.
This could be attributed to the rise of the left-handed batsman. Whereas lefties once stood out as a rare beast – although a beautiful one in the case of Sobers, Pollock, Gower – these days they are found all over the ruddy place and particularly in the Australian batting line-up. Andrew Strauss, and to a lesser extent Alastair Cook, have both struggled against left-arm over bowlers in the last few years and it makes sense that this line of attack would trouble left-handers more than a right-handed angle.
It would be misleading to suggest that England need Ryan Sidebottom Mark II to dismiss Ed Cowan or Phil Hughes. Nor should the selectors look to bring through a young left-armer solely because he bowls left-handed – that would be a silly as picking Ian Salisbury or Chris Schofield just because they happen to bowl wrist spin. But it would be smashing if England could introduce another option to their already stacked shelves. However, they’re not blessed with a huge pool of talent: Reece Topley is still very young, as is his county teammate Tymal Mills. James Tomlinson is the wrong side of 30 and Harry Gurney’s average is the wrong side of 30. David Willey has started the season well and Chris Wood is very talented, however both are surpassed by one man, a man who plays for Warwickshire which thus makes him nailed on to get an England call-up sometime soon. His bowling average of 26.60 is impressive (albeit he has taken only 88 wickets from 33 matches) and the fact that he’s been playing in Division One will also help, so Keith Barker is hereby declared the Best Left-Arm Seamer Most Likely To Play For England In The Event That Their Normal Right-Armers All Lose A Limb And Australia Somehow Are Winning The Ashes, 2013. Well done Keith!