T20 cricket is the format where an intended cover drive edged behind the wicket for four is a better stroke than a classic cover drive that fetches only one run. That is understandable. Means don’t matter, ends do.
The question is, does that apply to all cricket now? Will commentators be telling us, “It doesn’t matter how they come so long as they come” as a matter of course? Or does it still matter how they come? One of cricket’s conceits has been the importance of getting the ‘how’ right.
Watching the effectiveness of the overhead flick, the hopeful swish and the roundarm heave (strokes are invented faster than their descriptions) at the IPL, the question asks itself: have all technical discussions on batting been rendered irrelevant? Even an otherwise elegant batter like Rohit Sharma sometimes gets into awkward positions as he attempts that one shot to flummox both bowler and fielder.
All about effectiveness
The Virat Kohlis, Ajinkya Rahanes and Yeshaswi Jaiswals have shown that runs can be made by tried and tested methods; Jaiswal’s century against Mumbai Indians must rate as the best this year, perhaps in the tournament itself. When he swung Joffra Archer over the stands he seemed to have lots of time to play the shot, a sign of class and confidence. But the format doesn’t encourage style over substance; it is all about effectiveness. Youngsters are told it doesn’t matter where your feet are or how far apart your hands on the bat so long as the ball disappears into the crowd.
Back in the 1980s, the South African Barry Richards, then considered the finest batsman in the game (despite having played only four Tests), wrote that cricket technique had changed. He faced howls of protest from traditionalists who insisted that technique cannot change. You played the forward defensive shot (remember that?) in just such a way or the on-drive as recommended by the coaching manual. Any deviation was morally wrong.
This despite the example of batters like the great Garry Sobers who made a brilliant 254 in Australia (which Don Bradman considered the best innings seen in that country) without classical footwork. There was no question of the front foot getting to the pitch of the ball or anything like that. Yet he was never less than elegant. It was an innings of power played with casual ease. That is Sobers, he is a genius, said the traditionalists; normal rules don’t apply to him.
And now we discover that normal rules don’t apply to the journeyman batter either. Even the number seven or eight in the line-up is capable of hitting the best into the stands. The batter might not always look in control or balanced or elegant while doing so, but his coach will not complain.
The irony is that a country which once worshipped at the altar of orthodoxy now lives for the unconventional. For nearly a decade after they played their first One-Day International, India didn’t take the shorter format of the game seriously. Their best batsman, Sunil Gavaskar, played with a straight bat and immaculate footwork, and that was the Indian way.
It was only after he made 90 in Berbice and helped India beat the West Indies, then World champions, that we began to take the format seriously. In less than a year India beat them again to win the World Cup. Victory justified technique, or lack of it, just as it did in 2007 when India won the T20 World Cup. Till then they hadn’t taken that format seriously either.
Yet, there may be something dazzling about the manner in which a fast bowler is flicked over a falling batsman’s head. Suryakumar Yadav has looked comfortable playing this against bowling that could cause physical injury. It is this element of danger that makes it all so thrilling for television. Cricket is a hard game played with a hard ball and batters making it harder still by throwing themselves in the path of the ball.
One of cricket’s blessings is that there is a format for experimentation existing alongside a format for those who want to play by the coaching manual. In T20 the batter is judged as much by the runs he scores as the intent he shows.