The tall Sussex No.3′s calm head and taste for runs has impressed for one so young; Luke Wells was a fixture at first drop for his county in the Championship this season. He’s of good pedigree, with a father, Alan, who boasts an England Test cap, and is highly thought of enough to occupy that pivotal batting spot in a side with plenty of experienced run-merchants. He talks to AOC about the intricacies of left-hand batting, and his eccentric practice equipment.
What are the particular challenges for a left-hander these days?
The majority of bowlers are right-arm over, so the way they’re looking to get you out if they swing the ball back in is either with an lbw or bowled with your foot coming too far across, swinging back and hitting your pads in front of your stumps. One advantage we have is that if it isn’t swinging then most of the deliveries are going across you. So it’s easier to leave and if you are struck on the pad and it’s not swinging, the majority of the time it’s pitched outside leg. The key is to leave it well and not to fall over the ball to the off side.
What guard do you take first up?
My first guard would always be middle and my triggers would take me back and across onto more of a middle-and-off position. I like to make the bowler come straight at me. I leave well then as soon as he comes straight I like to capitalise. That’s what my game plan is.
What’s your mental approach as a No.3?
I used to open the batting and although there’s still so much responsibility coming in at No.3 I do find it slightly easier. Opening the batting you get no break or time to chill out – as soon as the innings is over you’ve got 10 minutes and you’re suddenly back out again after you’ve been fielding for 100-plus overs. Whereas at No.3 you get that extra time to steady yourself, get padded up, see what the bowler’s doing and how the wicket’s playing. No.3 is a very important position: if you lose an early wicket it can define your innings quite quickly. 10-1 is one thing but if you’re 15-2 that’s almost a completely different matter so what I try to do is be a rock at the top of the order. We’re very fortunate at Sussex to have a superb opening pair in Chris Nash and Ed Joyce, the majority of the time they get off to amazing starts. The key is to come in, lay a foundation, see off the new ball, so the engine room further down the order can do their work.
Is it tempting if you’re feeling good to go out there and really take it to the bowlers?
Definitely. That’s almost the most dangerous time: the better in nick you’re feeling, the more brash you can be, so every ball I just try to stick to what my game plans are. You’ve got to be able to assess which shots are in your favour, and take percentage risks. So I try to limit myself to scoring in a tight V. Especially this season, when the ball’s done a considerable amount, I try to narrow my V and hit everything straight up the ground, and everything else will take care of itself eventually.
Why are left-handers more defined by playing back foot square shots?
The angle. As I said the majority of bowlers are right-arm over, and if the ball’s not swinging in you tend to be going across. And once you’re going across you know your stumps aren’t threatened so you can leave or capitalise on the off side. And that’s something that Strauss, Cook, Trescothick and Thorpe did exceptionally well. Anything short and wide they could just throw their hands at it, and the angle accentuates the width. Whereas if you’re facing a left-arm seamer, the initial angle’s coming into you rather than going across you.
As a young lefty which players inspired you?
There’s abundance of unbelievably talented left-handers – one of my favourites was Matthew Hayden: his presence at the crease was incredible. Obviously he had the physique, but the way he’d come at the bowler, driving on the up through the covers and straight, then – still on the front foot – hooking away, it said to the bowler: ‘Is that the best you’ve got?’
Lefties are often seen as more stylish than right-handers. Are you aware of your own style, as a left-hander, and how it’s unique?
I’m not a player that thinks about style too much. It doesn’t mean that I’m a person who just scores ugly runs, even though that’s essential sometimes. I just think about how I’m going to get the biggest score possible.
The best practice is practice that’s harder than the game. I have a bat which is incredibly thin (but very thick front-to-back to make it as close to normal weight as possible). So I have the bowling machine swinging it both ways – it doesn’t have to be particularly quick because the machine accentuates it. If I do two or three buckets with the exceptionally small bat, then by the time I have my fourth bucket with a normal sized bat it just feels like a barn door.