The lost art of rotating strike in cricket
Cricket, as we know it today, has mutated into a batsman’s game. The crowds throng stadiums to see big hits. The sight of the white ball clearing the in-field and sailing deep into the stands is visually enthralling. If the switch hit from Kevin Petersen is a treat to watch, the reverse slap-hit for six over third man from Glenn Maxwell is astonishing.
It’s a good thing that they have a separate ball at each end these days. With the constant bashing a white ball takes in an ODI, it has more reasons than one to turn black, blue or perhaps green. Equally entertaining is the sight of stumps cartwheeling to a Mitchell Johnson fireball. But is the game all about hitting the cherry out of the park and toiling to have a crack at the stumps every time one runs in.
Singles and dot balls – The basics
In the late nineties, coaches in the Bangalore club cricket scene spoke vehemently on the significance of taking singles in a limited overs game. Likewise, the bowlers were taught the benefits of bowling dot balls.
Singles, we were advised, kept the scoreboard ticking. It allowed the batsman to change strike as often as possible and, in doing so, ensured that the bowler didn’t get into a rhythm. The bowler, on the other hand, was coached to keep a single batsman on strike through the over and pile on the pressure. These were the elementary rules of match play.
Whatever happened to constructing an innings
What we get to witness now on television, however, is quite the contrary. Batsmen, armed with testosterone-fueled biceps and wide willows, look to dent the fence right from the word go. Their mantra of unsettling the bowler is to cart them over the in-field and smash them into the stands. Add the cheer of the crowd to this, and it is mission accomplished for the batsman.
Agreed, the game has changed and it’s all about putting 300 on the board. But hitting fours and sixes alone is surely not the only way to get there; it needs to have a fair share of running involved too. How many have we seen perishing while playing to the gallery as opposed to building an innings?
When a switch hit comes good, you’re Glenn Maxwell; when it doesn’t, you’re branded plain stupid. My mind races back to the times of Arjuna Ranatunga. Never the quickest of movers, yet the 1996 World Cup winning Sri Lankan captain was constantly on the lookout for that quick single.
What’s more, he’d walk many of those - much to the displeasure of the opposition. And when he’d raise his bat to bring up a fifty or a hundred, the opposition didn’t know what had hit them. For all his frame and presence, he was a silent accumulator – of singles and twos.
The dot ball theory
Much of India’s recent bowling success could be attributed to getting the bowling “basics” right. When not blessed with the pace of the Aussies or the Proteas, it’s wise to bowl a tidy line and length. Zimbabwe almost embarrassed India employing this very theory. They pegged India back by four, purely by bowling simple yet effective dot balls.
Not allowed to strike boundaries at will and kept on strike, India’s top four – save Virat Kohli – found unique ways to get back in the hut. Such is the magic of bowling dot balls. It paralyses a boundary craving batsman and stunts his ability to think on his feet. With the scoreboard not ticking and pressure mounting, self-destruction is all but a stroke away.
It is for this reason that some of the best modern day finishers and middle order batsmen in Michael Bevan, Arjuna Ranatunga and Steve Waugh worked the singles to maximum effect while toying with the bowlers. There’s no denying that the game will continue to evolve, with more batting inventions being inducted.
While club coaches will be teaching the “Dilscoop” and the upper-cut showing television archives to awestruck kids, I just hope and pray that somewhere in their modern coaching manual, there’s room for the fundamentals of match play – singles and dot balls.