World Cup 2019: Lack of backfoot technique among modern players is more obvious than ever
With 300+ runs being scored and chased in ODIs becoming commonplace, pitches which favor bowlers are deemed 'not fit for cricket'. But while teams are racing towards the 500-run mark, a few pitches like the one at Southampton for the India vs South Africa match at the World Cup 2019 produced engrossing and interesting cricket - despite the target being 'as low as' 228.
The batsmen faced problems with the rising ball and unpredictable bounce, and scoring became difficult. The final score would suggest that India won comfortably but it was anything but comfortable.
Low-scoring matches are believed to be more interesting than high-scoring ones at times, but the sight of the ball disappearing out of the ground is greeted and applauded more than that of cartwheeling stumps. And what about the sight of a batsman taking cover against a well-directed short ball? The jury is still out on that.
There have been few a short balls which have been alarming in the tournament so far. Hashim Amla retired hurt against England in the opening game, and Shikhar Dwawan has become the latest casualty as he suffered a fracture to his finger.
It is also a fact that in the past batsmen with less protective gear have dealt with pitches having more bounce, and also with bowlers who were more quick, and still emerged successful. At times, the pitches were uncovered too.
Though a comparison of different eras must be avoided in sport, these factors bring into focus an important aspect of batting - technique.
Watching the ball closely, getting behind the line and pulling or hooking or using the upper cut (of which Sachin Tendulkar was a master) - especially in limited overs cricket - is what the coaches recommend. That's a bit easier now with the modern gear and infrastructure, but it was also practiced in days past.
Many former players have said that lack of protective gear helped them as they had their lives at stake when playing fast bowlers on lively pitches. The sheer danger involved in batting helped them improve their concentration and judgement.
While batsmen generally display a proclivity for front foot play, good footwork and judgement are regarded mandatory by former players. Though strokes off the backfoot are elegantly played by several batsmen now, greats like Sunil Gavaskar feel that backfoot play is on the wane.
The limitations on bouncers and lifeless pitches have contributed to deteriorating technique, according to many.
Competitive and fair contests between bat and ball are still appreciated at many places, but high-scoring games have become the norm - in turn forcing the run machines in limited overs cricket to remain meek lambs in Test cricket. A few greats like Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson are exceptions, but there is no mistaking the general trend.
It remains to be seen how many more batsmen will be injured or subdued by short-pitched bowling in the tournament. But we can be sure that very few will showcase the technique required to avoid injury and still retain their wicket.