I had a small book when I was a youngster, I forget the name, which was a sort of cricket primer. It had fielding positions, modes of dismissals, umpires’ signals, and, among other things, the different strokes a batsman plays.
The book was an old one, and the oddest stroke in the list was the sweep, which, to my eyes at the time, looked ungainly. There were the drives, in which the illustrated man – presumably British, wearing a shirt with sleeves rolled up to the elbows – looked kind of smart; the hook and the pull, which looked macho; and other strokes that, I felt, were simple enough to play. The sweep was the tricky one. It was also the one stroke I couldn’t quite feel, because the mirror I shadowed in front of was built into my mother’s dressing table, and when I looked up after completing the stroke, I could only see my head.
[We all shadowed those days and the ones that had cricket stumps and got their hands on a golf ball tried the Bradman Method too.]
Anyway, the book had a longish paragraph about the leg glance, and talked about how the legendary Ranjitsinhji, wrists of Indian rubber and all, had invented it. Ranji’s contribution to the array of cricket strokes is, of course, well documented, as are Rohan Kanhai’s falling sweep, Bradman’s back drive, Viv Richards’s flick to midwicket in the air, and so on.
And then, as sports broadcasts became a regular feature, people of my generation started watching more and more cricket, and discovering more and more strokes
Among the ones that have stayed on are Ravi ‘tuk-tuk master’ Shastri’s inventive step-back-walk-down-inside-out shots over the infield that he used so successfully at the World Championship of Cricket in Australia in 1985. Kapil Dev’s Nataraja Shot. Sachin Tendulkar’s pull – minimum movement, maximum result – and his right-hand-over-left flicks. Not to forget Mohammad Azharuddin’s flicks through midwicket to balls pitched outside off. Outside of these shores, both Garry Sobers (who I, obviously, didn’t watch live) and Brian Lara played the blazing drive through and over the covers better than anyone, and Adam Gilchrist’s pull in the direction of midwicket remains fresh in memory.
In the past few years, though, the number of bonafide monikered strokes has increased more than doublefold – credit (or blame) Twenty20 cricket for it. An updated edition of that book I once had would be quite a tome now. Switch-hit, Dilscoop, ramp shot, the inside-out stroke, MS Dhoni’s helicopter and Kevin Pietersen’s flamingo, the hoick or the tonk to all parts of the ground, the upper cut over third-man… Till ten years ago, people were still unsure about the reverse sweep, with the likes of Sunil Gavaskar and others saying on TV that they could never have played it. All that seems so long ago. Rahul Dravid played one of those risky things back in 2004, in the Rawalpindi Test against Pakistan, and dragged the ball on to his stumps. He had scored 270 and was drained, so … But so out of character was the stroke that many of us talked about it for a good long while afterwards. In the Indian Premier League and the Champions League Twenty20 afterwards, Dravid played it often, and connected fine.
To the collection of strokes that the Geoffrey Boycotts and Sunil Gavaskars of the world might baulk at, one has had to add two more strokes in the past three days – that’s the frequency with which new strokes are being created now.
First, it was Andre Russell’s ‘duck hook’, played against Doug Bollinger in the Big Bash League. Bollinger bowled a short delivery that Russell seemed to think would be a bouncer. He ducked, but when the ball didn’t bounce enough, he was caught in an awkward position. No matter. He half-ducked, eyes completely off the ball, approximated where the ball would be, and swung. Hard. Four. “It’s the duck hook,” Damien Fleming raved in the comm box. “He’s just brought something new to the game of cricket.” Russell, to his credit, admitted it was a fluke, unintentional, a matter of adjusting to the situation.
Then, in the third One-Day International between Australia and India, played at MCG, it was the turn of Glenn Maxwell – who truly can play strokes no one has visualised yet – to come up with the ‘Djokovic’ (christened by Mark Taylor). Twice off Barinder Sran, Maxwell spotted the bouncer outside off stump early, got into position, and slapped the ball forehand-like over cover. Once for four. Once for six. That’s a Djokovic from Glenn Maxwell. Oh, and that’s another Djokovic from Glenn Maxwell.
Forget AB de Villiers and 360-degree batting … it’s almost like 360-degree batting is possible to every conceivable delivery now. And from every position at the crease. I am pretty sure I have seen Dwayne Bravo back off to the leg side and fling himself at a ball bowled out of his reach and still manage to connect well enough to send it for four. Or was it a six?
Don’t blame the length of the boundary ropes – Maxwell’s second Djokovic went over the ropes at cover at the MCG. Although, yes, you could blame the bats if you like.
“Bats no longer have edges. They have a front, a back, and two sides,” Michael Holding is fond of saying when the topic comes up, before adding, “But I am not going to talk about T20s. I don’t watch it, so I can’t talk about it.”
When we were young, the bats of Clive Lloyd and Sandeep Patil and Graham Gooch were talked about as heavy – Lloyd’s even had a nickname: Big Bertha.
Then there was Tendulkar’s willow.
Now, take David Warner’s bat. It could easily pass off as a medieval-era club, or the sort of thing that troll in the Harry Potter movie lugs around.
But the developments in the process of pressing (the wood) and suchlike mysterious things have meant that the bats weigh not much more than those matchsticks Azharuddin used. The sizes are still within prescribed limits. They are just nuclear-powered weapons of bowler destruction now.
I’m pretty sure the duck hook won’t catch on. It was a freak shot, wasn’t it? Seriously, why would anyone deliberately crouch into a short ball and swing blind? But the Djokovic? Yes, that one could well be the new one they try out at the nets and in coaching classes here and there, the same way they did the scoop and the ramp shot and the upper cut. Those started out as innovative strokes discovered/invented by individuals, but are now as much a part of the armoury of a modern-day batsman as the leave outside off stump. Or, wait, do they teach those to kids anymore?