Mike Gatting to Virat Kohli - The story of reverse sweep in Wisden Almanack

Wisden-MCC Photo of the Year
Wisden-MCC Photo of the Year

Wisden Almanack is the oldest recorded cricket reference book published annually by Bloomsbury publishing House, UK. Alec Waugh, the eminent British novelist, referred to this publication series as the 'Bible of Cricket' and considering the rich heritage that the almanac brings along with it, the name assigned is by no means an exaggeration.

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Kohli's Reverse Sweep

The 2017 version of the Wisden Almanack featured Virat Kohli, arguably the best batsman of this generation, on its cover page. Kohli was the second Indian and 3rd Asian ever to feature in the Wisden Almanack cover after Sachin Tendulkar (2014) and Moeen Ali (2015). However, the intriguing part is that Kohli can be seen playing a reverse sweep on the Wisden Cover. For a publication, that has stood as a bastion of orthodoxy and puritanism in cricket for more than 150 years, this comes as a huge surprise. On being questioned about Wisden's stance on the Kohli reverse sweep, Wisden Editor Lawrence Booth stated,

"It underlines the fact that he is a very modern cricketer. It felt like the right time to get some unorthodoxy onto the cover. People often think of Wisden as a bastion of orthodoxy, but cricket is changing so rapidly that it felt like the right time to reflect that, and Kohli was the right man for the job."

However, historically Wisden has not been so benevolent about innovative cricket shots in the past. There have been instances when the staunch English cricket media had ripped apart batsmen with criticism, because of their choice of shots in critical junctures of important matches. One such famous instance where a batsman faced unjust criticism for his choice of shot, was the reverse sweep of Mike Gatting in the 1987 World Cup Final.

1987 WC Final match summary

After winning the toss, Australia decided to follow the tried and tested method of putting up runs on the board, in a big final. Led by David Boon's 75 and aided by handy cameos from Allan Border and MRJ Veletta, the Aussies reached a par score of 253, at the halfway mark. The tricky pitch, combined with the pressure of the World Cup Final meant that Gatting's men needed to perform a Herculean task, to stake their claim on the trophy.

Unfortunately for England, none of their batsmen got going except Mike Gatting and Allan Lamb. Particularly, captain Gatting was in stupendous touch, having raced to 41 off 44 deliveries. At 135 for 2, in the 32nd over, England was slowly gaining a position of supremacy in the match- when Gatting suddenly got out, against the run of play, trying to play a reverse sweep off Allan Border. The English innings could never recover from that sucker punch and ultimately fell 7 runs short of the target.

Criticism from cricket gurus

Eminent cricket journalist Simon Wilde called the reverse sweep an 'ill-judged dalliance' in The Cricketer. Ian Chappell called it a 'brain-lock' moment, for Gatting, while Gooch called Border's move to bring himself on, a masterstroke. The live commentator Ray Illingworth was, however, a little less harsh, as he said, "That is the first time Gating has made a mistake".

The purists of the game were dismayed by Gatting's disregard for the cricketing convention. They were in utter shock at the audacity of Mike to attempt a reverse sweep in a World Cup Final. In a cricketing world, where the only acceptable shots were the ones played in the 'V' along the ground, Gatting's reverse sweep in such a crucial match made him seem like an outcast. Thus this narrative began to shape up, as to how Gatting was the sole person responsible behind England's debacle in the final.

A brief look at the scorecard would be enough to dismiss these allegations against Gatting. Gatting was dismissed almost midway through the second innings. The English team had plenty of time to recover from his wicket and consolidate their position in the match, which they could not. The English defeat was primarily due to the lack of application, by their batsmen on a slow tricky Eden Gardens pitch. Only Gatting and Lamb showed some application and that was not enough in a pressure-chase in the finals.

The evolution of the game

In the present world, where unconventional cricket strokes are not only accepted but celebrated, it is unfair that Gatting still gets blamed for his reverse sweep. There have been instances of batsmen playing far more careless shots in critical junctures of important games, to cost their team the match - like Misbah in WT20 2007 Final. But somehow, Gatting's reverse sweep has managed to stay alive in cricketing folklore as a standard of irresponsibility in crucial matches.

Cricket and especially Gatting has undergone a sea of changes since that WC Final at the Eden, in 1987. T20 testosterone has fueled the game of cricket and that has led to the introduction of dilscoop, switch hit & reverse flicks in batsmanship. Players such as AB de Villiers and Brendon McCullum have made a name for themselves for being 360-degree players. IPL and other T20 leagues around the world are revolutionising the way, the game has been played for so long. Keeping up with the demands of the game, batsmen are finding newer areas in the field to score boundaries and that is leading the discovery of outrageous shots. Batting as art is getting redefined and the conservative textbook style batting is disappearing from the game fast.

Thus Wisden's approval of unorthodox cricket shots is the right boost, that the game needed, going forward. With more and more T20 leagues around the world, the unorthodoxy and innovation in the game are only going to increase and it is important, that Wisden has decided to come out of its bastion of orthodoxy and embrace the franchise based unconventional version of the game.

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Edited by Kingshuk Kusari
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