Friday, 22 April 2011

Don't bother having a look, lad...

At the end of the sixth over in their game against Rajasthan yesterday, Kings XI were 77-1. It would be easy to pass this off as symptomatic of one of the many warping forces T20 is applying in its first era.

Yet it hints at something more fundamental. In distilling the game down to an extreme form, conventional wisdoms will be challenged. Just as it won't be long until the very fastest spells of bowling come routinely in T20, so the paradigms that have contained the way batsmen bat will shift.

One of the most beloved of those wisdoms, passed down through generations, is to 'play yourself in, son. Have look'. Lara always said, 'the first hour belongs to the bowler'. The first hour? When Sehwag bats, the first ball doesn't always belong to the bowler.

Playing yourself in is a convention from time past, when the game was slower and longer, when conditions and expectations were different. It's also a psychological state: the nerves and fear dissipate once you've batted for a while and have a few runs on the board.

What there isn't, though, is a physical reason why you should have to play defensively when you first bat. If you have the skill and training to hit a ball, there's no limit on when you're able to do it. The brain and eye are more than capable of assessing external conditions immediately, otherwise you wouldn't be able to make the fine motor adjustments needed to play defensively, either.

What's coming is a generation of players with a new skill set and a different expectation of the possible. If they have a look in any format, it probably won't be in the way we know it now.


David Barry said...

I disagree with some of the reasoning here.

The brain and eye are more than capable of assessing external conditions immediately, otherwise you wouldn't be able to make the fine motor adjustments needed to play defensively, either.

Defensive play is different because mis-hits - be they thick edges, or balls hitting too high on the bat - go to ground quickly, rather than travelling at catching height for 30-40 metres.

If you have the skill and training to hit a ball, there's no limit on when you're able to do it.

This is only true if pitches are all identical, or close enough to it. I haven't collected stats on the IPL since the first edition, but I would be astounded if the most common score by individual batsmen wasn't a duck, by a substantial margin.

Time is so short in T20 that it may well be optimal to start playing aggressively from the first ball, but on average there will still be a 'getting your eye in' process going on.

And I would be even more amazed if this transferred to first-class cricket. It'd be worth a couple of runs to batting averages to everyone if it did.

The Old Batsman said...

Hi David,

yes, I agree with you re conditions, but then they're becoming homogenised compared to say fifty years ago, and also yes, there's more margin for error in defensive play.

I suppose the general point is that the process will get shorter in whatever form, become less important. Criticism for falling to an aggressive shot will lessen. For example, Sehwag, who plays pretty much the same way in all forms, is accepted for his methods, and averages about what everyone else does.

You're right, it's overstating the case to say that first class cricket will be played as if it's T20, but I think it will be played more quickly, and the game may get shorter.

Anonymous said...

Have to agree with David that there will be even more ducks (in all forms) if it becomes culturally accepted to start with all guns blazing. But the influence of 50 over games on first class batting had already been immense over the last 30 years, before Sehwag, IPL and big bats changed mindsets. So agree with the Batsman we are in for more change in all formats.

I just looked at the scorecards from 1928-29 when Hammond was a hero, and praised for his fine driving, at roughly 2 runs per over. Compare that with the 2009 version, and I suspect we would find the 1928 version seriously deficient. Urgency is now seen as a core value in Tests.

Only some of the difference is accounted for by better bowling in 1928. Most of it is due to abandonment of the conceptual framework, which had beenTest cricket as a game of absolutes, with an infinite amount of time available to await the bad ball, and infinite respect for the good.

Tim Newman said...

I've been watching the IPL over the past week for the first time, and I have to say I'm not half as impressed as I thought I would be. I saw Chris Gayle's 104 not out, smashed in stupidly few balls, but after a few minutes I found it all very tedious.

Watching somebody smash a six or a four is either exhilirating or boring depending on the surrounding context. The context in which Gayle was smashing them was against a bowler who was often bowling short balls three feet outside off stump in a match where it mattered not one jot if Gayle lost his wicket once he'd scored about 30 something. Compare this to somebody smashing a four in a tight test match, or reaching the boundary by superbly playing what was a very good ball.

It reminds me a bit of rugby 7s. A try in 15s is worth applauding because it is fairly rare and needs to have been preceded by a fair amount of work. In 7s, tries are run in every couple of minutes. Eventually, nobody is much bothered with the tries, just the scoreline (if that makes sense).

With T20, I think somebody has thought the crowd want to see boundaries and made sure they see plenty of them. But removed from the context of conventional cricketing strategy, the boundaries don't mean a lot. It's like watching a golfer on the driving range rather than on the fairway.

I didn't think I'd find myself saying this, but thus far the World Cup offered far more entertainment for me than the T20. Although watching Dravid bat yesterday was pretty nice.

supreeth said...

The point about context is very good.Why could the same chris gayle not come up with such an innings during the World Cup? It is the context where there is so much pressure on you. Also in the IPL each team hardly has a couple of World Class bowlers. The others are all part time rubbish bowlers. Most of the good balls bowled by bowlers like Steyn and Brett Lee go the boundaries because captains dont put the slips or any catching positions at all. So runs in the IPL is not comparable to that in International cricket. For me, the highlight of watching cricket was when Steyn was bowling to Tendulkar in the 3rd test and making him look absolutely ordinary. And Tendulkar battling through that period and putting India in a good position. Compare that to the IPL. You feel like spitting on the IPL.