I enjoyed watching the Melbourne Test

Whenever the ball swings or deviates from the pitch the modern-day batsman is found wanting, writes Greg Chappell

Updated - July 25, 2016 06:17 pm IST

Published - January 03, 2012 02:08 am IST

Greg Chappell.

Greg Chappell.

I really enjoyed watching the Melbourne Test match. It was a contest from the first ball to the last.

Cricket of any form is at its best when the balance between the bat and the ball is even. In fact, it is probably at its very best when the ball has a slight edge over the bat as it did at the MCG. In those conditions the games are generally low-scoring which means that the match is never far out of reach. One partnership, or one good score, can change the game.

Personally, they were the type of game in which I preferred to play. They are definitely the best games to watch.

Conversely, cricket is at its worst when the contest is lopsided. Too much Test cricket in recent years has been played on pitches that basically remove the bowler from the equation.

Whoever decided that spectators only want to see the ball disappear to or over the boundary has no real understanding of the intricacies and nuances of the game. That sort of thinking has nearly killed the 50-over game as a spectacle and the same could happen to Test cricket if we don't understand the dangers of one-sided or boring contests. As we saw in Melbourne, the pitch that offers the bowlers some bounce — and or movement — really shines the spotlight on batting technique. Often those techniques come up short.

Sachin Tendulkar in the first innings and Mike Hussey in the second, were the stand out examples of those who prospered in demanding conditions by using their feet well.

It seems that whenever the ball swings or deviates from the pitch the modern-day batsman is found wanting. I think it has always been the case, but, the question that I am most asked is what has brought about the demise of footwork in recent times.

Batting methods

I believe there are a number of reasons why batting methods have changed and I will deal with them in chronological order. The first is the introduction of helmets. I doubt that Sunny Gavaskar and Mike Brearley could have had any idea when they donned their padded headwear all those years ago how it might impact the art of batting.

The extra weight in the helmet has caused batsmen to stand up straighter to keep their head upright so as to manage the weight of the helmet. What this has done is put the batsman's weight back more onto the heel which makes getting the feet moving more difficult. The old bat-tapping stance generally took the head slightly to the off-side which brought the batsman's weight to the ball of the foot which is the ideal place to be if speedy initial movement is an advantage; the added bonus is that the eyes are in-line with the off stump in this stance.

Next is the ubiquitous bowling machine which was a boon for the coach, but, which has had a negative effect on footwork. By removing the bowlers action from the learning equation we have unwittingly removed the most important part of the learning process for young batsmen to get their timing in-sync with the vagaries of each bowlers' action.

India could do well by avoiding the trap of following England and Australia down the path of introducing bowling machines ‘en masse' to the coaching environment. Machines also promote a short stride to the ball with a consequent throwing of the hands at the ball. It is not surprising that so many batsmen inside-edge the ball onto their stumps with this method.

Throw-downs can promote a similar action when what is needed is a smooth, long stride as close to the ball as possible with the hands coming into the action at the last possible moment. Proper use of the lower body is essential to allow the upper body to work as required.

Finally the bigger bats that are in vogue now are great for hitting the ball harder and more forgiving for off-centre hits but they also breed lazy footwork because one can get away with less than centimetre perfect footwork; if the ball is not moving

They are also more difficult to get started because of their weight so the modern phenomena of batsman standing up straight with bats already cocked-up has become more prevalent. Tony Greig has a lot to answer for being one of the first to make this method popular. Not only does this stance put the weight back on the heels, it also prevents the natural cocking of the wrists which, in turn, allows the body to work more efficiently.

Perversely, many young Indian batsmen use heavy bats because the master does. What they don't have is his creative mind that is the main reason why he is in a class of his own.

The best thing we could do for future generations is to make sure that they learn batting with light bats, lighter helmets and that they are encouraged to use their legs properly to give them the foundation to counter the challenges that they will face with a moving ball.

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