“Well,what a magnificent stroke. Straight over the top of extra cover; the seventh six of the innings. One can’t help but think he’s just started to warm up.” This is how Matthew Hayden,while commentating, summed up one of the cut shots played by Rohit Sharma during his eye-catching 209 run knock against the Ausies. Any cricket analyst of the 90s would have been astounded to watch a cut shot being played over covers going the distance.
Cricket has grown by unimaginable proportions over the last 10 odd years, particularly in the batting department. A lot here refers to a lot!! I mean,the range of strokes that the modern day batter can unleash, irrespective of who’s bowling,at whatever pace/length/line, he’s very much up for the task in hand. It’s ain’t secret that cricket is a batsmen’s game. But, it is intriguing and at times,flabbergasting to watch the batter pull off remarkable strokes so effortlessly as they do. Take for example, the scoop shot, switch hit or the lap shot.
There are no prizes for guessing who’s got the ultimate sword in hand. I just get the feeling,as the bats get thicker and heavier, the Competitive Examinations’ books are all set to have a run for their money. No more a towering six needs to be described as having hit the middle of the bat. Oh yes, it has gone to that extent. Every part of the wooden piece is very much potent enough to produce the ripple effect. The ‘ripple effect’ I say given the fact how balls simply fly off after kissing the top edge of the bat. What the expanding bat sizes has done is that it has further degraded the efficacy of the bowlers as they are vary of bowling in the block hole at the death, credit to the vigorous swing of the bat capable of nullifying the lethal delivery.
Tall,Burly,Powerful Shoulders – these adjectives were reserved to paper down the physique of a West Indian quicky until some time ago. Well,that’s not the case any more. A batter, or to generalise, a cricketer, is supposed to be physically robust and tough enough. This well turns out to be yet another plus point the batter bags. Hence,smoking sixes isn’t the real deal. Smoking huge sixes is. As long as it doesn’t get monotonous, one way traffic(as it seemed to me during Chris Gayle’s record fracturing 175 run unbeaten knock vs Pune Warriors), watching 100+ metre sixes is a spectator’s delight.
This article isn’t meant to deny the intoxifying pleasure that a copybook stroke has on a pure cricket romantic. A cover drive timed to perfection by the Kolkata Prince, Sorav Ganguly is a treat to watch. But, what a present day batter does – let’s say, a Shikhar Dhawan, who too caresses the ball through covers as dexterously as anybody else – how he does it different is by powerfully clobbering the round leather piece through the covers. In Ravi Shastri’s words, he packs a punch.
The wristy strokes, which the sub continental players, so cleverly operate with, are increasingly becoming six hitting options,specially during the 2nd power play when more often than not, the fine leg is inside the circle.
Hit the ground running. That’s what quite a few modern day batters strictly believe in. The inception of the slam bang T20 format need not be wholly ascribed for this attitude of the batters to vanquish the bowlers straightaway. Virender Sehwag , Adam Gilchrist or a Matthew Hayden have successfully represented this brand of domination since the early 2000s.Traditionally, the opening batsman is expected to see off the new ball bowler. But, traditions are meant to be altered, if not anywhere else,in cricket at least. These batters began the tradition of couriering the strike pacemen in the stands. Hardly are there bowlers who can fear the batsmen by bowling fast. Yeah,Mitchell Johnson is one. Who else?
There is no dearth of batters richly supplied with patience and temperament good enough to tackle high quality test match bowling. The defiance shown by Indian batsmen, particularly Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara, in the recently concluded test series against South African pace battery stands testimony to the fact.
Another distinct feature of the modern day batsmen is his ability to endure physical blows without letting it effect his stint at the crease. Showing pain on the outside is considered a sign of weakness and humiliation, to an extent, in this day and age. A batsman has really turned into the Macho men of sorts.
The batters haven’t had it their way if they’ve been weak and meek freaks while dealing one on one with the 21st century bowlers. The batsmen don’t have the cake all the time. A good batsmen unflinchingly counters good seam/swing/spin bowling or for that matter, sledging without developing mental blocks.
A Kevin Pietersen, doesn’t mind exchanging a few words, as we saw in the test series against India back in 2009-10. During his entire stay at the wicket,there wasn’t any love lost between him and Yuvraj – constantly engaged in a verbal spat. Inspite of it, he compiled a patient century unfazed by the heated series of chats.
While on the opposite, there are batsmen who deliver by getting all fired up after a heated debate. In the India v England encounter in first edition of the world T20,Andrew Flintoff charged up Yuvraj Singh with his words of wisdom, I fancy, only to trigger utter humiliation of a young Stuart Broad – poor boy being slapped 6 sixes in over. Indian and English players seem to have magic words of inspiration to tell each other.
All said and done, the South African one day overs skipper, Ab De Villiers is the most exciting batsman across formats in the present day scenario for me. He’s got all the shots in the book and a few more to brag about. His trademark Lap Shots have as much finesse as his textbook drives,cuts,pulls,etc. What stands out is his temperament. There are few things he cant do with bat in hand. He can build as well as finsh an innings with the very same perfection. He’s provided us more than enough evidence to convince one and all,of his supreme quality and 3 T’s – talent,technique and temperament, and to back it up with stunning statistics.
All in all, as a cricket romantic, who loves all forms of the game equally, what I would love to see is of course, a better balance between the bat and ball than what exists at this point of time. The rules and the pitches must be reviewed to even it out.
To ICC : Spectators indeed love to watch fours and sixes being hit,but, more essentially, they turn up to witness competitive cricket rather than a mauling of one side. A low scoring tightly fought affair going down to the wire can, just as well, flatter the audiences.