One-day cricket is believed to be a batsman’s game, and this edition of the World Cup reiterated that belief. We’ve already seen over 300 sixes so far in the tournament and almost all the teams have made batting look ridiculously easy.
Except for the first half of the match between South Africa and New Zealand. During that period, the ball moved all over the place, both in the air and off the pitch. Making contact with the ball was tough, leave alone middling it. So perhaps batting was not that easy after all! It required special skills and application from both Kallis and Gibbs to understand the swing.
It works like this. Batsmen find things far easier if the ball doesn’t deviate in the air, it allows a player to play through the line of the ball. You just need to work out the angle and then play in that straight line.
But if the ball starts swinging, it becomes a different ball game altogether. Suddenly, playing through the line is not an option. You have to look for the little clues, like the bowler’s action (side-on or open chest), the shine (if visible), the positioning of the bowler on the crease (wide or close to the stumps) and even the direction of the wind.
Then, a player has to back his years of practice and draw a conclusion based on those hints: which way will the ball move (and how much) and then position his feet accordingly. The basics of batting (assuming you’re a right-hander) are to play the ball on the right side of your front leg and play it as late as possible (close to your body).
These basics become more crucial when the ball is swinging, as playing down the wrong line or away from the body can make matters difficult. Once the ball leaves the bowler’s hand, there’s very little time for the batsman to gauge the deviation both in the air and off the surface. Hence, a player has to get his front leg in a position to meet the ball on its right side very quickly. It requires both skill and years of hard work. Sometimes, the ball starts moving as soon as it leaves the hand and that makes it a little (only a little!) easier to adjust the feet movement.
Then, there is another set of bowlers, who do not swing the ball in the air, but get it to move off the pitch (like McGrath). These bowlers rarely give you clues and are even tougher to play. Playing swing bowling is a lot about imagination (you imagine how much it’ll move in the air, will it move after pitching or not and how much if it does). But, for batting, as in life, imagination too is a skill and practice helps!