Given the circumstances, it was maybe understandable that a remarkable stat slid beneath the radar last week: Shahid Afridi became the greatest hitter of sixes in international cricket. His 373rd panged over the boundary in Dubai, coming from just the second delivery he faced. Three balls later he was out, thus concluding perhaps the signature Afridi knock.
What the stat reflects, more than Afridi's mortal terror that he might, at some point in his career, play an innings open to the adjective 'boring', is how the methods of scoring are changing. Afridi's is probably not a record that is going to survive the career of say, David Warner or someone of his age and sensibility.
Viv Richards, the most domineering player of his era, hit 210 sixes, a total that Virender Sehwag skipped past in the Test against New Zealand. Bradman hit six in his career, Boycott eight, totals that Afridi exceeded in his first international innings.
The six is now central to limited overs batting, something intrinsic and totemic, and of course that filters into Test cricket too. It's been easier for batsmen to hit [shorter boundaries, better bats, less approbation on dismissal] and strangely, easier for bowlers to bear [face it, it's going to happen to everyone].
What brought it to mind was a question posed by elegantstroke in the post below about Barry Richards - who does Richards' game most compare to? Richards played in an era when a six was still not quite common currency. He did hit them, mostly via his early adoption of a type of elegant slog sweep, and when he would lean back, thrillingly, to get elevation over the bowler from his slim-edged bat, but they weren't his main scoring shot. Yet Richards powered along. He hit nine hundreds before lunch in his career. That's not a feat often replicated even now. Gordon Greenidge once remarked that it wasn't unusual for him to still be in single figures as applause for Richards' 50 rang around the ground [and Gordon didn't necessarily believe in holding back, either].
Richards, like Sehwag and Lara, just hit lots of boundaries. The artistry of batting is in hitting the ball where the fielders aren't. Therein lay his greatness and his genius, and theirs, too.