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Rajkot proves it is a batsman’s game

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BOWLING THEIR HEARTS OUT: It took some accurate bowling by India’s Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan, seen celebrating with their teammates, at the death in the face of some relentless batting by the Sri Lankans to ensure victory at Rajkot.
BOWLING THEIR HEARTS OUT: It took some accurate bowling by India’s Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan, seen celebrating with their teammates, at the death in the face of some relentless batting by the Sri Lankans to ensure victory at Rajkot.

Nandita Sridhar

Bowlers reduced to a mere containing role as opposed to wicket-taking ones

Rajkot: Most batsmen admit, with only a thinly disguised hint of regret, that one-day cricket is a batsman’s game. Not that anyone has a problem with it.

825 runs were scored at the Madhav Rao Scindia Stadium in a 100-over clatter of boundaries and sixes. It was the second-highest match aggregate, second only to the 872 runs that were scored in the Australia-South Africa Johannesburg ODI in 2006, also known as THAT game.

If it wasn’t enough that India managed 414 runs, the sheer ease with which the Sri Lankans kept themselves in the hunt provided a frightening glimpse into the game’s future.

Trouble is, matches like these are entertaining. There were runs from Virender Sehwag — admittedly a form of destruction that’s most eye-pleasing — a splendid, audacious chase, self-destructiveness at the end, and running that agreed with everything else to produce a thrilling finish that should never have been.

Tillakaratne Dilshan, Sehwag and Kumar Sangakkara’s innings were in line with the demands of the modern game, where every ball hit is a statement.

Hopelessness

Most shots were maliciously intended to expose the hopelessness of bowling on such a wicket. Sangakkara repeatedly cleared mid-wicket and long-on, each time evading the fielders with ease.

At a different time, it would have been audacious, but at Rajkot on Tuesday, it appeared too routine to be daring.

It’s not like the bowlers didn’t try. Ashish Nehra tried testing Dilshan with his variations of length, but the batsman’s every repartee was impressively convincing and confident.

He had enough time to position himself and strike the ball with tremendous force to produce a spectacular batting display.

Zaheer Khan, returning to ODIs after 10 months, gave away 88 runs in his 10 overs, the most ever by an Indian bowler; but he nevertheless came in for praise at the end for his bowling at the death.

Zaheer and Nehra’s bowling at the death — restrictive and yorker-filled — did the containing job that India needed.

“One-day cricket is a batsman’s game. It was a very good one-day wicket. Yet Ashish Nehra bowled 28 to 30 yorkers in his last five overs and Zaheer also bowled a lot of yorkers. That helped us win in the end,” said Sehwag.

It is worrying when frontline bowlers are reduced to containing, even if the situation might have demanded as much. With the changing face, demands and character of batting, the charm of bowling — a rich and creative art in itself — is wearing thin.

The introduction of the batting power plays is further seen as a worrying sign for bowlers, even if it does seem like teams are struggling to pick the right time to use it.

While some are of the opinion it should be taken immediately after the bowling power play — which most teams complete in overs 11 to 15 — others believe holding it for later presents a challenge to the fielding side to work out its options.

In both situations, the very idea of a restrictive field further reduces bowling into an activity of containment. This slow degeneration of attacking bowling has altered the perception of a good cricket match.

“The crowds were entertained, the media was entertained, everyone was entertained,” admitted Sehwag.

Big totals, thrilling chases and close finishes are immensely entertaining, but it converts the game into a shootout. Exciting, no doubt, but essentially empty.

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