Rebel Sport, get real

It’s late summer in New Zealand and we’re all excited about cricket, because we’re helping host the World Cup, and so far our team looks good. Cricket matches, even “short” ones, take many hours to play so there is lots of cricket on NZ TV at present. So, naturally, companies in New Zealand want to associate themselves with cricket as much as possible. Much of it is the standard product placement or grey-faced retailers pretending to love the game more than life itself. But then there are advertisements like this one, which is by the country’s biggest sports retailer and has been playing all summer.

Corey Anderson is one of the hardest hitters in the NZ batting lineup. The ad makes the claim that as a left-hander, he has an advantage because unlike his right-handed teammates who use both sides of their brain, “he only uses one side” when he’s seeing and hitting the ball, and that this gives him a speed advantage of 30 milliseconds.

The claim seems specific (“30 milliseconds”), and comes with visuals of brain slices that give it the unmistakeable air of “science,” and therefore appears highly authoritative. After all, we know that lefties are bit different to righties, and it has something do with how they use their brains, right? And you might also have heard claims about how the right side and left side of our brains work differently (spoiler alert: in all such claims, the right side is way more desirable).

However, not for the first (or last) time in advertising, there is precisely no basis in fact for the claims of this advertisement. First, it is just totally false that left-handers only use one side of their brain for seeing and hitting a cricket ball. All of us, righties and lefties, use both sides of our brains when we see the world. In fact, as you look straight ahead at the bowler steaming in towards you, things on the left side of the world get processed by the right side of your brain, and things on the right enter the left side of your brain (the swap from one side of the world to the other side of the brain is just a function of the optics of the eyeball). The cricket ball (which is the only thing that matters) would be processed by both hemispheres, since it is coming straight at you. As you hit the cricket ball, your right arm is controlled by your left cerebral hemisphere, and your left arm is controlled by the right side of your brain, so again righties and lefties will hit using the whole brain.

So the claims here are all spurious. It is not even as if left-handers use only half their brain for anything else. The most celebrated process that is generally “lateralized” in the brain (that is, more strongly organized in one side of the brain than the other) is language. Most right-handers have a stronger language centre in their left brain than their right brain. But left-handers actually show weaker lateralization; more left-handers than right-handers show strong language in both hemispheres of the brain.

Clearly, Corey Anderson does have tremendous athletic gifts. And those gifts are not just in the speed he can bowl or the strength with which he hits the ball; he no doubt has much faster reflexes than the rest of us. I had the dubious honour of making my high school’s first cricket XI as neither a bowler nor a batsman; I wasn’t even a particularly good fielder (an early lesson that enthusiasm can carry you a surprisingly long way), but that was where I got to make my (relatively minor) contribution. I always dreamed of being allowed in the slips, where you stand behind the batsman and try to catch the ball as it ricochets off the bat, because everyone seemed cooler there. But on the rare occasion the captain put me there my stay would be brief; a ball would come rifling off the bat and be a long way past me before I had any idea what had happened. So Corey Anderson does have an “unfair advantage” over me, but it is not the fact that he’s a left-hander. It’s just, simply, that he has talent.

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