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Wrong shots get right results

One-day cricket has torn up the coaching manual with constant innovations, writes Aakash Chopra.

india Updated: Mar 29, 2007 02:23 IST

I'm going to bet that Shane Watson hadn't learnt how to get down on one knee and scoop-heave a yorker-length ball over the fine leg boundary for a six in that young cricketer's technical bible, Don Bradman's The Art of Cricket. Watson probably saw that a short-fine leg was in place and wanted to go over him but hit it hard enough to send it sailing over.

Watson played the shot in Tuesday's rain-curtailed Super Eights opener, but I doubt you'll see that Watsonesque whack played in Tests, unless by a lower-end-bat. It's a typical bastardised one-day shot — like so many others. Though I wasn't around when cricket was played for the first time somewhere in England, I'm sure that one of the main cricketing shots from that early era was the cross-batted slog. That's probably the easiest shot to play and the beauty of the shot is that one does not have to learn how to play it.

As the years went by and the game developed, there would have been a lot of introspection on what shots to play regularly and the precise way to execute them. The cross-batted slog soon disappeared and became a shot only meant to be played by the bowlers. But what fascinates me is that the seeds of one-day cricket were probably sown when the game was first played, because that same cross-batted slog has been seen quite regularly ever since the shorter version of the game gained popularity.

As players got used to batting and bowling in the same day, the game began evolving in terms of the shots played or the shots manufactured. Hitting along the ground wasn't fetching enough runs so people started hitting in the air to clear the infield. These lofted shots are basically an extension of, or an elevated version of the same old cricketing shots, aimed at a particular result.

A player has to free his arms to play any attacking shot and hence “room” is the key to getting that full extension. It's impossible to get the elevation if you get to the pitch of the ball, so the feet movement was dramatically reduced to create that extra distance (room) between the ball and the feet.

When the ball is pitched short, ideally one must go back and across to play shots on the back-foot, but by doing so, you rarely get the room to free your arms. The bowlers are aware of this and now bowl a lot straighter and closer to the batsmen. Then again, one-day cricket is all about outfoxing your opponent. As a result, increasingly, we see batsmen only going back to create that extra width.

Then we saw variations to the square-cut. People have stared 'under-cutting' to hit it in the air. If hitting the ball on the off-side is about making room, then hitting it on the leg-side is all about your reflexes and being more innovative.

The sweep was meant to be played when the ball was pitched outside the leg-stump (by a spinner) and in any case, was never considered the best shot in the book. But as one-day cricket was more about getting runs than looking pretty, a few varieties of the sweep were born.

For starters, people started fetching it from outside the off-stump, and then came subtler variations. The paddle sweep - where the batsman (remember Azharuddin?) plays it very late, ensuring the ball goes really fine along the ground.

Then the reverse sweep, where a batsman plays the traditional sweep on the off-side. A very difficult shot to execute but people are actually seen practising it and a few have mastered it as well (remember Pietersen hitting Murali for a six using the reverse sweep?)

If this was not enough, Douglas Marillier came up with a new, unbelievable shot. I don't really know what to call it but it was an elevated version of the paddle sweep, part sweet-part scoop that would sail over the keeper. The unbelievable part was that he played it off the fast bowlers.

I could go on, because the evolution of cricketing shots is a fascinating study but I'll stick to mentioning an interesting stroke that people tend to believe isn't really a one-day shot, the glide down to third man. It actually is. In the longer format, you wouldn't normally open the face of the bat as slips and a gully are almost always in place but in a one-day game, there are fewer inhibitions. With Twenty20 now gaining ground, the face of batting is going to change dramatically. Interesting times lie ahead.