Is Team India's struggle against quality left-arm pacers real? Let's decode why India batters have weakness against left-hand bowlers.
The left-arm pacer swinging it back in to the right-hander is one of the most satisfying things to watch in cricket. But when it happens against your own dear team, the same satisfying moment turns into a dreadful nightmare. And the Indian cricket team and its fans have seen such traumatic nights far too often in recent times for everyone to now call it a "weakness". It is no secret that the prolific Indian batting lineup struggles against the left arm angle, and the opposition teams have been exploiting this weakness for fun.
Whether it was Mustafizur Rehman's debut series against India in 2015, when he took 13 wickets in his first three international games, or Mohammad Amir's performance against India in ICC Champions Trophy Final 2017, when he steamrolled the famed Indian batting lineup. The Indian fans saw a repeat telecast of the 2017 Champions Trophy final in ICC ODI World Cup 2019, when a certain Trent Boult dismissed the top 3 for just 3 runs on the board in the all-important semi-final game.
As if the carnage wasn’t enough, the Indian lineup again crumbled against Shaheen Afridi in the ICC World T20 2021, courtesy of which India lost their first ever world cup game against Pakistan. In fact, Indians haven't learned their lesson yet, as another left-arm pacer, Reece Topley, was able to put a hickey on India's neck in the recent ODI series against England, continuing the men in blue's love affair with left-arm pacers. Reece Topley picked up his career-best 6 wicket haul against India in the 2nd ODI.
"Thappad se dar nahi lagta sahab, left-arm pacers se lagta hai"
That’s what the Indian camp and the fans must be thinking. India’s ever so formidable batting lineup has a clear weakness against the ball coming from the left arm angle. In fact, if we deep dive into India’s top order, Shikhar Dhawan, who averages 48.30 against right arm pace, averages just 45.20 against left arm pacers in ODIs while being dismissed in 26 games.
India’s all-format captain, Rohit Sharma, just averages 22.40 against left-armers in T20s (international + domestic) vs an average of 33.73 against right-arm pacers, while Rohit has been dismissed on 28 occasions in ODIs and 41 times in T20 cricket by left-arm pacers.
Virat Kohli has been dismissed by a left-arm bowler the most times in India's top order (90), followed by Rohit (71). KL Rahul's struggle against the ball nipping back in from the left-arm angle has also been exposed to the cricketing world, and in IPL 2022 we saw Trent Boult replicate a carbon copy dismissal of KL Rahul’s removal in the T20 World Cup 2021. Even Hardik Pandya’s average against left-arm pacers drops to just 21.01 as compared to 32.30 against right-arm bowlers in ODI cricket.
Addressing the elephant in the room
If we turn back in time, one of the possible reasons for India’s struggle against left-arm pacers could be the absence of quality left-arm bowlers in the Indian setup. Ever since India’s legendary left armers - Zaheer Khan, RP Singh, Ashish Nehra and Irfan Pathan hung their boots, India have been struggling to find a like-to-like replacement.
They thought they had tried and tested the likes of Khaleel Ahmed, Thangarasu Natarajan, Pradeep Sangwan and even Barinder Sran for a few matches but they were not able to match the quality of international standard bowlers. This has resulted in poor performances by batters against left-arm pacers in match situations, and if the ball is swinging early on, a wicket or two is on the cards if the opposition has a left-arm pacer.
England’s former captain Nasser Hussain didn’t mince his words either when talking about the top order collapse against left arm pacers in two consecutive ODI against England. “They need to play left-arm [pace bowling] a little bit better. History tells you that Shaheen Shah Afridi blew them away one evening in Dubai, Mohammad Amir blew them away one afternoon at The Oval in a final, and Reece Topley has blown them away here [at Old Trafford],” Hussain said on Sony Sports.
The recently concluded IPL 2022 was a blessing with respect to left-arm pacers as we could see potential talents like Mohsin Khan, Arshdeep Singh, Mukesh Choudhary and Yash Dayal making the Indian selectors wonder. Inclusion of such bowlers in the net bowling lineup would not only help India be well-prepared but would also hone the skill set of these youngsters, who could then translate to become finished products to perform at the international level.
With two cricket world cups in less than 18 months time, India would certainly look to bridge the gap with respect to facing left-arm pacers, or else the opposition would rampage a truck loaded with left-arm bowlers right through this gap, which is as big as the galaxy around us.