“Innovation can be defined simply as a "new idea, device or method". However, innovation is often also viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs.” – Wikipedia.
Innovation is the thing that drives the survival of an entity in the modern world. It is what helps the mindset of a person linger to a world beyond existence – a world of imagination.
Speaking of innovations with respect to the ‘Gentleman’s Game’, one is left to wonder whether cricket would be just as popular if it had been played the way it was played five decades back; whether it would have gained such appreciation if it still remained the ‘Gentleman’s Game’.
Over the years, we have seen changes brought about in the laws of the game, mostly to make the sport more exciting. And, as we speak, cricket is still expanding – the striking innovations have, after all, brought along massive audiences.
With these innovations, something that has seeped into the game in the last one or two decades is unorthodoxy, especially, among the batsmen. They have turned to new quirky shots – shots which mesmerise the crowd with excitement and awe. And among these shots, the ‘Helicopter Shot’ is by far the most popular.
The Helicopter Shot is quintessential Dhoni
“Just watch the back-lift and just watch the follow through at the moment of impact. Not quite sure of what he did there, but it was very very effective. Almost swung himself off the feet.”
Sir Ian Botham was left bewildered at what he had just seen. Of course, he had just experienced the inception of a shot that would make the cricketing world go crazy in the years to come.
It was the third ODI between India and England being played in Margao. The second delivery of the penultimate over of the first innings had James Anderson, who was bowling to a young long-haired Mahendra Singh Dhoni, whirling around to see the ball flying over the mid-wicket area. It was nothing like the Englishman had ever seen.
The ball was pitched full, almost too full to work it for a four, let alone a six. Dhoni, however, had different ideas. With a fusion of timing and wrist-work and brute forearm power, he smoked the ball over the fence. Even as he went into the follow through, Dhoni’s bat whipped over his shoulders like the blades of a helicopter.
One single element that signifies this shot is power. It is a shot that defines the character of the practitioner; it is quintessential Dhoni.
The technique behind the shot
The helicopter shot is one of those shots which look very easy to play but when it comes to execution, one has to make careful calculations.
One needs to achieve a high back lift before the bowler has released the ball. This is very important as this back lift transfers the initial momentum to the ball at the point of impact. Although the batsman scoops it with an angled bat, the full face of the bat should make the impact with the ball. The weight of the body has to be equally distributed between the two legs.
Most of the momentum, however, is saved for later by staying deep in the crease during the impact. This remaining momentum is then released with the wrist work and the whip. The whip may look unnecessary, almost as if the batsman is only showboating. However, it is this whip that provides the trajectory to the ball.
The history of the Helicopter
Although Dhoni has been credited with perfecting the nuances of the shot and making it popular, he wasn’t the first cricketer to have tried it. Sir Vivian Richards, Sachin Tendulkar, Abdul Razzaq have all played this shot before Dhoni even came into the foray of international cricket. However, Dhoni’s version is unmatched in terms of the sheer fear it propagates in the opposition bowler.
Later on, it was revealed in his biopic that he had picked up the shot from his friend Santosh Lal. It was Lal who had mastered the ‘Thaapad shot’ and taught Dhoni the tricks in exchange for samosas. Unfortunately, the former Jharkhand player died at the age of 32, succumbing to acute pancreatitis.
So, if it was named the ‘Thaapad shot’, how did it come to be known as the Helicopter shot? Interestingly, it was only in 2011 when the shot got the name after Dhoni appeared in a fun Pepsi commercial where a bloke appeared to teach him how to hit the shot.
The Helicopter’s journey
The Helicopter was one stroke that Dhoni employed with fervour in the early stages of his career. It was a time when he was young, unhinged. There was that one match against England when he implemented the shot five times, each time garnering the maximum output. There was that one time when James Faulkner’s delivery was dispatched out of the Chinnaswamy.
One thing that was sure to happen every time Dhoni executed the shot to perfection was that the bowler’s jaws would drop; he would be left perplexed and bemused. He would whirl around in self-preservation, the look on his face depicting someone who had been pole-axed and was well aware of that.
The jaw-dropping extended beyond the field and into the galleries and the commentary boxes and the press boxes. “How does he do that?” was the common refrain among those left in awe.
But with time, Dhoni began shouldering greater responsibilities. He changed his demeanour to suit the team’s style and with that, he tended to rely on it increasingly sparsely. Once, an elderly reporter asked him why he did not play the Helicopter anymore. Dhoni had the perfect reply.
“See, a helicopter needs a particular place to fly. If you go underwater into a submarine and ask why there are no helicopters there, then that will be a problem. I cannot play it to a bouncer unless I get a stool with me,” he had said.
True, it was a philosophical discourse and a lengthy one at that, something that is very unlike Dhoni. But what it signified was that the Helicopter is not a shot that can be played anytime and anywhere. And that is what makes this shot so special.
As cricket continues to grow, many batsmen will try to replicate the shot. Many will get the desired result but no one will ever do it quite as well as Dhoni does it.Published 15 Jun 2017, 17:05 IST