The joy of six-watching: Nothing like a video game | Cricket - Hindustan Times

The joy of six-watching: Nothing like a video game

By, New Delhi
Oct 10, 2023 10:07 PM IST

For a fleeting moment the spectator fielding the ball becomes, literally, a part of the action. Nothing else like it exists in cricket.

Although it is reasonable to lament sixes and their ubiquity nowadays, it is easier to do so before a screen. The ennui of relentless big hitting, the compulsory excitement of commentators, the explosion of graphics, all of it recedes at the ground. Sixes in real life don’t feel like a video game. Each one draws from the crowd a genuine thrill, even wonder. The eyes that follow the path of the ball are agleam. People crane their necks to see where it lands, they throw their mouths open and their hands up in the air, applaud spectator catches and drops alike. For a fleeting moment the spectator fielding the ball becomes, literally, a part of the action. Nothing else like it exists in cricket.

India's Suryakumar Yadav plays a shot during a match(AFP)
India's Suryakumar Yadav plays a shot during a match(AFP)

My first experience at this World Cup was a match at the Kotla that featured 31 sixes. Between them South Africa and Sri Lanka scored 754 runs in a day, about five hundred of those in boundaries. To say that they smashed or blasted these would be untrue. Batters today can access parts of the ground that their predecessors did not know existed, they can get there in ways their forebears could not imagine, all the while retaining the ancient methods.

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At the Kotla on Saturday, Quinton de Kock began at a positively traditional pace, stroking his lovely drives, staying watchful – until, on getting to fifty, he flipped on a switch to display a whole range of dance-downs, back-aways, inside-outs and pick-ups. Rassie van der Dussen, built like a prizefighter, fleet-footed against spin, handsome on the loft, showcased a bouquet of paddles, reverses and laps, all the while maintaining a clinical assurance. Aiden Markram’s straight drives to seam and late cuts to spin were superlative Test-match strokes. His one funky shot, jumping into a reverse stance to lap a fast bowler, cued a nice moment later that night.

As Markram was finishing up at the media conference, van der Dussen took a seat at the back and threw his team-mate a question: “Have you ever played a reverse lap before?” “Are you being for real now?” Markram laughed. If Markram doesn’t do ramps and laps it is because he doesn’t really need to. His century, in an inexplicable 49 balls, the fastest ever in a World Cup, comprised what commentators like to describe as “cricket shots” to distinguish them from the aliens bred in the T20 lab.

The two biggest hitters in the South African side, David Miller and Heinrich Klaasen – who last month put on a 222-run stand against Australia at a rate of 14.47 per over! – barely got an outing that day. The red-bearded Klaasen, who stays sprung in stance, clouted three sixes. The left-handed Miller, who seems to imperceptibly pirouette before teeing off like a golfer into whichever direction he has arranged himself, swung one six over midwicket and a glorious one over extra cover. Then the allrounder Marco Jansen, all twelve feet of him, came out and lofted the largest one of all, into the clubhouse.

Incredibly, South Africa, with 428 runs, by some distance the highest total ever made at a World Cup, were outsixed by Sri Lanka. It is true that the Kotla isn’t the largest ground around, and some of the later ones were lost-cause hits, but 17 is an astounding number for a side that lost the game by a hundred runs. Eight sixes, roughly one every five balls of his innings, came off Kusal Mendis’ blade, who would go on to a 77-ball 122 against Pakistan.

Mendis’ sixes at the Kotla were eye-catching by any standards. He pulled deliveries full of a good length, he leaned over and ramped over fine-leg, and swept conventionally in front of square – all against top-notch fast bowling. Mendis is short and hits down to up, high into the sky. His sixes made old-fashioned parabolic arcs. Their long hang time evoked another era, the days before sponsored Maximums, the days of “We Want Sixer” chants, when, on a good day, a crowd favourite like Salim Durani might oblige fans by hitting sixes to where the call came from.

Bob Simpson, the former Australia captain, has written the story of an ask made by his friend, the poet and cricket fan Dom Moraes. Score a 50 and hit a six off Bishan Bedi, Moraes said to Simpson before a charity game in Delhi. Simpson was 42 years old, beset with diarrhoea, and had only managed two sixes in his long Test career. But he did get to fifty, gave the great Bedi the charge, “luckily connected and the ball flew high and true, and landed almost in Dom’s lap”. In return Moraes left the ground to write Simpson a poem of friendship that he got framed and hung up at home.

I had meant in this column to consider the things that go into modern hitting – training methods, overloading and underloading, swing planes, the calculated fearlessness of T20, the fatter edges on bats, so that they are thick as middles of the past, the two news balls used in ODIs, so they don’t go soft – but as you can see I have got carried away by the six.

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