“Skillfulness’ in the command of fundamentals deriving from practice and familiarity” is a dictionary meaning of the word technique.
In cricket you often hear this word, with respect to certain players having it in abundance and others not necessarily accomplished with that attribute. So what are the fundamentals of batting? Can they be listed into bulleted points? Or is cricket, or any sport for that matter, an exhibition of diversity of skills, ability and methods to exploit talent? A boundary is a boundary, yet it appears vastly different from a Gayle’s bat than when it comes from say, Trott. Sehwag and Gambhir open the batting for India, yet the former has a boundary (combined 4s & 6s) hitting frequency of 8.5 balls, while the latter clears the fence every 15 balls. So what brings about this difference? Is it mere batting ‘technique’ or does it have to do with approach?
Just like a bowler has to adjust his radar to left and right handers, he has to do that with respect to the type of batsman he is bowling. He would try and dismiss say, a Dravid, by bowling relentlessly to a worked out line but his plans go out of the window when somebody like a Gayle is batting; for not only does the latter have the ability to hit good length deliveries but also the intent of scoring runs off every opportunity. Somebody like Strauss could wear down bowlers but somebody like Sehwag can dent the confidence of bowlers. Those who have played the game at the highest level say that cricket is a more of a mind game, even though you have to be physically involved in it! You could infer, thus, that mentally stronger players could be more successful in cricket than their physically stronger compatriots.
Dravid wasn’t the greatest off-side player when he started, but when he ended, you couldn’t doubt his off-side play. Did this big change happen only because he had the technique to adjust? If he was a Sehwag, would that have been difficult? Dravid, Trott, Kallis, Ponting, Amla, Tendulkar (and you could keep adding names!) belong to the school of textbook batting; whereas likes of Sehwag, Gayle and Pietersen are more akin to powerhouses, with mighty impact on the game. You would associate words like class and consistency with the first set of names and adjectives like powerful, aggressive, and impactful with the latter. The game is lucky to have both these genres on display simultaneously, which provides opportunities to study the art of batting in most of its possible forms.
Like everything, cricket has evolved (for good or bad is a different subject of discussion) and so have the skills involved in it. Limited overs cricket has brought over-the-field hitting, innovation and cheeky shots but players like Cook, Gambhir, Shaun Marsh et al. provide the sober side of batting in colored clothes. Virat Kohli led India in a chase of 320 in less than 40 overs earlier this year; the knock was more sublime than hard-hitting, yet it delivered what the situation demanded. The likes of Gayle, Pollard, Yuvraj and Warner have an impeccable ability of turning the tide in no time and with minimum fuss. Dhoni, Misbah and Clarke form a set of players who are not just physically strong but mentally even more tougher. They can clear the ropes with ease, yet use those gallery shots only when they are needed.
If you were to choose role models for young cricketers to emulate, you would probably list Cook, Gambhir and Marsh from the above list, for they are the most easy to replicate! Yet you would want to have somebody like Gayle and Dhoni in your line-up, for you wouldn’t want to care about ‘correct’ batting, but ‘effective’ batting. Someone like Kieron Pollard practices his skills as much as Kohli, and thus in a way, both the players attempt to have a total command over their respective attributes. Then isn’t the word ‘technique’ over-hyped, more than it should be?
Published with permission from The Spectator.