Changing trends: Keep pace or stay home
Stung by successive setbacks in New Zealand, a visibly stricken Indian coach said that only players who are swift between wickets and good in the field should be picked. This, he said, is critical ? certainly far more important than just the ability to bat or bowl. The Indian coach, by nature, is someone who carefully weighs words before opening his mouth. Which is why his thoughts about team selection are important.india Updated: Jan 16, 2003 00:28 IST
Stung by successive setbacks in New Zealand, a visibly stricken Indian coach said that only players who are swift between wickets and good in the field should be picked. This, he said, is critical— certainly far more important than just the ability to bat or bowl.
The Indian coach, by nature, is someone who carefully weighs words before opening his mouth. Which is why his thoughts about team selection are important and his utterance constitutes an indictment, however polite, of our players.
His message? Indians are deficient, not fit enough, can't field. But actually there is a more general message there as well about how cricket has progressed over the years. Through the World Cups, cricket's technique has evolved and many ideas that appeared smart in the past have since been junked.
Batsmen earlier were taught to protect wickets in the beginning, see off main bowlers and establish a base for a brutal assault in the slog overs when, normally, all conventional methods of batting warfare were abandoned.
Perhaps influenced by such thoughts (though nobody has fully cracked the mystery) Sunil Gavaskar played that unforgettable innings in England. Players those days were happy with 50 from the first 15; in the present context that would be pure disaster because teams search for 100. Not long ago 225 from 50 was competitive; now 300 is unsafe and players are ready to pack bags and go home if the target is lower than 250.
Batsmen don't have time to get their eye in --- this must be done in the dressing room itself. Earlier, players pushed the ball into gaps and ran singles; now the ball is smashed into gaps -- in the stands, many rows beyond the boundary.
And as the commentators tell us repeatedly, batsmen take the aerial route and the ball goes up miles in the sky for the maximum.
Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana changed one-day batting forever by turning batting technique upside down, shifting the slog to the beginning of the innings. Since then everyone is playing the same game, and to be able to do that effectively, batsmen acquired a fresh attitude and invented new shots.
Due to this, hitting over the infield and reverse sweeps became routine and fast bowlers are slashed over point for six. Batsmen are cleverly, and deliberately, nudging bouncers to third man over the heads of slip cordon and players are actually sweeping medium pacers to beat the fine leg and getting a four.
With all batsmen seemingly on some kind of a cricket viagra, sophisticated hitting has replaced crude slogging. Current batsmen are stroking cleanly, their strikes are fluid and smooth compared to desperate hoists of the past, a trend seen in the way Sehwag eases the ball through cover off the backfoot without any hint of power.
The game has changed in several other ways also. Batting orders are more flexible and emphasis is, to use Gavaskar's words, on two-skill players and that is why Dravid is keeping wickets and Agarkar is promoted to No.3.
Captains are more innovative in field placings, the bowlers are more clever.
But all this is faltu and peripheral. The basic change is cricket is played in fast forward, everything is speeded up. And if someone can't keep pace then just too bad -- he must stay in the dressing room.