Last weekend, I was at a cricket ground, aspiring for a spot into my company’s cricket team/squad. The selection trials were on. About 80 had registered, and about 45 had shown up, some were in formals too (I mean shirts and trousers and leather shoes). Batsmen batted, bowlers bowled. I had checked the box next to “Bowling” on the ‘Application Form’, and hence was mildly surprised when I was asked to pad up to bat. I went to the caller and told him that I didn’t ask for it. I was told I was the only one who didn’t opt for it, so they thought it was a printing mistake. I replied “Ah well, don’t expect much out of me. I’m a Muralitharan with the bat.” True to my word, I hoicked a couple to cow corner, got hit on pad 4 times, drove thrice, pulled once and got bowled twice (once while playing a back foot flick to a yorker, and once while dancing down the track). God knows where my front foot was. With an awkward smile, I returned to get rid of the gears…
I’ve been a bowler, and I always want to remain so. Even if my valiant attempt at a shot at the company’s team might mean the end of red cherry cricket. And I’ve always enjoyed watching cricketers like me go on to bat. It’s entertaining. I’ve enjoyed watching Chris Martin, he’s a legend in our circles. Bowl your heart out, cannot care less for the willow handling. Muralitharan was a smiling assassin even when he came out to bat. One would think he’s driving away bees if you watched him bat. And he would wear a silly smile on his face. He once had a runner to assist him, and he started off to run when edged the ball behind the keeper. And then jumped and dove back into the crease, leaving everybody chuckling in laughter.
People like them, the real “Mucks with the Bat”, are a dying breed. Cricket now demands that even the bowlers are able enough to bat and see a team through. Top order batsmen get out for cheap, and tail enders have to bail them out by putting up a decent score which would give themselves something to bowl at. Everyone get’s a “He’s no muck with the bat” from Sunil Gavaskar. In the era before, bowlers would tell the batsmen “give us xyz runs to bowl at and we will manage within that.” Nowadays, batsmen are casual enough to risk their wicket and ask for the tail to do mop things up.
All that has given rise to more number of all-rounders. Bowlers who can bat, more than batsmen who can bowl. Some have completely changed their resume. Shoaib Malik, Tillekeratne Dilshan were spinners to start with, are now more renowned for their batting. Today, bowlers are expected to bat. And bat for long. And score. When a billion people expect the last three names on the batting card to do something which the eight above must’ve already done, something seemed out of sorts. Not new, the adulteration has been happening for a while.
No, we don’t undermine batting. We love to bat. But in our own way. Glenn McGrath, Courtney Walsh were all very serious about their batting. Their averages may speak otherwise. It was some kind of kill-joy pleasure, when someone like MacGill or Hoggard would walk out and just stay put for half and hour, without scoring. Just, not get out. Frustrate the opponent. Enjoy their frustration. Or conversely, like the legend Murali mentioned above, swing. Frustrate your own teammate(s).
We don’t know which direction the front foot must face while driving the ball, we don’t know how to remove the bottom hand away to play with soft hands. We know that a bat is given to protect us from getting out, and, if imagination permits, score runs.
In the ongoing India vs West Indies ODI series, there were three games that had the 10th wicket pair hogging the limelight. In one, we saw the no.10 and no.11 take India to a victory. In two others, there were 10th wicket partnerships of more than fifty! Batting was good, yes… But that’s the job of the top order. When was the last time you saw Indian batsmen coming in at no.10 and no.11 average 20 in List-A cricket?
Once the 7th wicket is gone, it should be time for unadulterated entertainment. Commentators must shut up and not pass a single comment about the batting technique. Frankly, the French cut is our favourite shot. Anything else is out of pure luck.
We gave the world moments some wonderful moments. Last year, we saw Pragyan Ojha performing a Harry Houdini at Mohali. He was out lbw, but the umpire thought otherwise, and soon after, ball somehow ran to fine leg, and Ojha ran, ran India to victory. And beyond that, the most entertaining part of Australia’s win over South Africa at Johannesburg three weeks ago was the fifteen minutes worth live images after every other ball, bowled after the fall of Australia’s 8th wicket, of the no.11 batsman in the dressing room, Nathan Lyon. He was sweating profusely, eyes open wide, mouth gaping, heart thumping… And he was not even on the field yet.
Ojha won it for India. Australia won it for Nathan Lyon.
Batsmen score centuries every day. Now they even score double centuries in ODIs. Runs are now available in every vending machine of a cricket pitch. But even in this era, we have legends like Chris Martin, who received the biggest cheer of the match from the crowd at Hamilton when he completed his 100th run of his career in his 60th test.
Mucks with the bat.
(image courtesy ABC News )