The anchors have not gone out of ODI fashion
The batter who takes charge in a tough situation, spreads calm and helps teammates is still a necessity
One-day cricket may be spoken of as some kind of an imposter in this T20 era, but the one important aspect this rainy-day sporting entertainment invented more than half a century ago has retained is the batting anchor.
Not always in its classical avatar, but the batter who takes charge in a tough situation, spreads calm and helps teammates draw up the response that is initially conservative is a cricket tactic that has never gone out of fashion even amid a frenetic, robust, franchise-triggered approach.
New Zealand have made as bright a start to their World Cup campaign as could be asked playing far away from home, but they would hope Kane Williamson eases into his role as captain and batting rudder once he returns from a long injury break against Bangladesh on Friday.
The Kiwis have the big-hitters, bat deep and collectively have the temperament to go with talent they will need if they are to make amends this time after losing the 2019 final to hosts England on a heartbreak called boundary count.
Williamson made his World Cup debut in 2011, when co-hosts India lifted the trophy. But he has been a towering figure since. In 2015, New Zealand under Brendon McCullum lost to fellow co-hosts Australia in the final. Williamson then hit two centuries and two fifties each, averaging 57.8 in 2019 to guide the Kiwis to the final.
England’s array of power-hitters are an envy to most rivals, but they still can’t do without arguably the most classical batter in the game – Joe Root. His game may be seen as too tame for T20, but the manner in which he can manipulate the bowling regardless of conditions or opposition makes him an invaluable asset.
The transformed 2019 England team under Eoin Morgan had big heroes in Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer, but Root was the batting spine, scoring two centuries and three fifties in aggregating 553 at an average of over 61. In India this time, Root has been a picture of consistency, scoring 77 in the loss to New Zealand and 82 in beating Bangladesh.
Root, like his contemporaries Williamson, Virat Kohli and Steve Smith, isn’t rooted to old-fashioned nip-and-tuck. It does bring a smile to the fan while watching the former England skipper execute the reverse lap, but the ball more often than not ends outside the boundary.
Australia have had a poor start to their tournament, losing to India by six wickets in the opening game and to South Africa by 134 runs in Lucknow. In Chennai, it was Smith’s anchoring top score of 46 that kept the team in the fight before Ravindra Jadeja bowled him with a peach of a delivery to hand the hosts control. On Thursday, Australia never recovered from Smith's (19) early dismissal.
Smith was solid in Australia’s victorious 2015 campaign, scoring fourth fifties with his lone century coming against India in the semi-final win. The focus was on whether injury-plagued Michael Clarke would lead the side to triumph, which he did, and whether the Aussie fast bowlers could tame McCullum in the final, which Mitchell Starc achieved.
But Australia’s greatest ODI anchor will have to be Michael Bevan, who was this island of calm and busy running amid a bunch of power-hitters before the term even gained currency. Almost every rival had a Bevan tale of woe to tell in the 1990s and early 2000s the manner in which he would take the game away from them just when everything appeared lost for the Aussies.
In 1999, the tied semi-final at Edgbaston against South Africa that sent Australia into the final is remembered most for Shane Warne’s four wickets and Allan Donald’s last over run out, but it was Bevan who top-scored with 65 amid the nine-wicket rampage by Donald and Shaun Pollock. And the south paw also ran out Daryll Cullinan and caught Jonty Rhodes off Paul Reiffel – he is umpiring in the 2023 World Cup.
Four years later, Bevan’s calm assurance was still crucial in Australia retaining the title in southern Africa. In a vital game in Port Elizabeth (now called Gqeberha), England, restricted to 204/8, had reduced Australia to 48/4 when Bevan came into bat. His nerveless top-score of 74* hitting just six fours and a six and lifting the team from 114/7 was half buried in the heroics of Andy Bichel (34* off 36 balls), who took the team home with a 73-run stand for the unbroken eighth wicket.
Bevan it was again with Australia struggling against New Zealand, scoring a composed 56 and partnering Bichel (he hit 64 at No.9) after Shane Bond rocked the batting with 6/23, that took the team into the final. Like he could in the 1999 final win over Pakistan, Bevan could put his feet up and enjoy the final as Australia – they won by 8 wickets at Lord’s -- beat India in the Wanderers final in 2003 after amassing 359/2.
Pakistan’s Javed Miandad, who played in the first six World Cups, was the team’s middle-order heartbeat but also the one who helped slow down when it started pounding. Always calm and calculating and a master at finding the gaps and running brilliantly between the wickets, he braved back trouble at 35 to hit six fifties in the victorious 1991-2 campaign, none more precious than the 58 at No.4 in the final against England, happy to tap the ball around despite tension in the camp as the scoreboard was almost static. In the end, the 139-run partnership with skipper Imran Khan set up young Inzamam-ul Haq and Wasim Akram to score quickly in the end, going on to achieve a memorable triumph.
India’s own anchor, Virat Kohli, has started in brilliant fashion, scoring 85 and 55* in the wins over Australia and Afghanistan. The home team’s chase master may have to play a big hand in Saturday’s clash with Pakistan and if they are to go all the way at home, 13 years on.
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