From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.18 :: May. 02, 2009

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CRICKET / FEATURE

Entertainment at its best

Lucrative prizes have transformed what was scorned as a professional “dog eat dog”, unethical and win-at-all-costs ungentlemanly tug-of-war into a contest of merit played for valuable stakes on the world stage, not just for material gain, but also for real kudos and status, writes Frank Tyson.

The introduction of Twenty20 cricket into the schema of first-class and international cricket has infused fresh blood, a new dynamism, a wider dimension and sprightlier life into what was the sluggish blood stream of the universal game. No longer is it a tired regional competition contested between regional heroes, with nothing more than the odd tarnished piece of silverware and honour at stake. Lucrative prizes have transformed what was scorned as a professional “dog eat dog”, unethical and win-at-all-costs ungentlemanly tug-of-war into a contest of merit played for valuable stakes on the world stage, not just for material gain, but also for real kudos and status.

Side by side with this public acclaim comes an easily comprehended format, educated, not just by the cognoscenti but also by centuries of brainwashing and decades of exposure to England’s and India’s popular sport, played in the streets, against every lamp post, in the fields in front of stumps, or orange boxes posing as the real thing, should wickets not be available. In its simplest, purist form, T20 cricket falls into what was best described by the famous lexicographer, Dr. Johnson, as “a game wherein a ball is struck with a stick.”

This total simplistic immersion in what was once defined as the national sport of the former British Empire has brought with it a Pandorra’s Box of playing richesse which has turned out to be the most telling difference between the Australian Test side and the rest of the cricketing world: the imbalance of pure talent between Ponting’s men and the remainder of the international sides plus the ease with which the Men from Oz seemed to despatch every opponent thrown up against them.

Equally obvious was the facility with which Australia replaced its star players: bowlers of the stature of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath; batsmen of the likes of Justin Langer, Damien Martyn and wonderful ’keepers such as Adam Gilchrist. They slot into the new three-day, one-day and Twenty20 formats like well-fitting gloves adapting comfortably to the new formats set down by the prototypes upon both the batting and bowling opportunities permitted to the authors of the curtailed game by its West Indian inventor, David Stamford.

The ration of Stamford’s necessarily limited number of overs bowled and balls faced by the batsmen shaped the form of the innings, but it did not dictate the tactics of the game seeking the choice of deliveries and the selection of the strokes to be employed against them. Thus, when necessity demanded it, completely impractical strokes were employed against totally unsuitable deliveries. Therein lies the charm which comes from the inherent risk of the sport.

To be selected to bowl in such times of risk was like the honour of being chosen to bowl fast for the English Midland counties of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire in the interregnum between the two “interruptions” of World Wars I and II. Selection of the fast bowling raw material was easy: One simply had to go to the pit head of any colliery, whistle and stand aside to avoid being caught in the rush of the raw-boned miners who were for many years the engine room of the pace attacks of the aforementioned counties triumvirate — and England.

The one-day short version of the game confined its country cousins to a mere 50 overs as laid down in the World Series Competition. The Twenty20 game is even briefer and permits the contestants the short shrift of 40 overs maximum — of only 40 overs as permitted by its West Indian instigator David Stamford. This latter stricture automatically limits the number of overs faced by the batsmen and bowlers and shapes the course of an innings — indeed a match.

Twenty20 cricket has blown through world cricket like a refreshing gale of change. It would be idle to pretend that it imbued an almost moribund game with a rebirth of batting style: a revivification of elegance. It has, however, injected cricket with a spirit of aggression — a rare quality in the breasts of post World War II performers — at all levels of the game. Players now stride on to the field with a new-found determination of not to allow opponents to make the pace in a game: and a fixation to dish out the aggro — not to take it. Such resolution is all very well in theory. But to carry it into the realm of practical execution, it needed tools: a technique.

The general principle is that batting technique should be based on the vertical blade theory: the idea which maintains the maximum area of the batsman’s bat (40 cms) should be between his bat blade and the stumps he is defending (22 cms approx). Thus in swinging the bat in this space, the batsman defends his wicket at the same time as he increases the chances of his hitting the ball. Twenty20 cricket places less emphasis on defence and commits the batsman to aggression and taking risks. Many of the strokes are horizontal in shape and execution, with the batsman defending his wickets with only the width of the bat blade (5cm) in front of the width of the stumps (10cms approx).

The horizontal bat strokes are a much more natural way of hitting the ball, freeing up the arms to swing the bat more freely through a much longer arc and thus hit the ball more powerfully. There are no half-measures in Twenty20 cricket. The batsmen are not interested in defence; mobile, at times, they move around the batting crease, to improve their hitting positions.

Thus they will move out of their crease to make a short-pitched ball into a drivable half-volley; restricted by leg-side bowling attack, they frequently step away to leg to cut the ball through the off-field for runs. The secret of Twenty20 success, however, is not to be confined by one’s creative limitations. It hangs on choosing the right ball to hit! The motto should be: “the difficult we hit for boundaries immediately” — “the impossible we take a little time to work out.”

Above all, Twenty20’s main function is to entertain!



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