A ton is no excuse

It is time batsmen too got their hands dirty,since cricket has moved on

Written by Sandeep Dwivedi | Published: February 22, 2012 3:09 am

It is time batsmen too got their hands dirty,since cricket has moved on

Sunil Gavaskar had recently retired,Kapil Dev’s magic was fading,while Sachin Tendulkar’s international debut was still a year away. 1988 was a time when the perplexed Indian cricket fans weren’t sure whose poster they should paste on their bedroom walls. But eventually,there emerged a loyalty pattern that had a distinct gender divide. While the giggly schoolgirls,with passing interest in the game,settled for the looker Ravi Shastri,the cricket crazy teenaged boys revered the batsmanship of Dilip Vengsarkar.

And that’s the reason boys from a local cricket academy turned up in droves when Vengsarkar came to our town in the late 1980s to play a domestic game. Long before the D-day,their coach had spent several previous evenings talking about the upright stance,perfect stride forward and the graceful straight drive of the man who he referred as “The Colonel”. The purpose of the field trip was to watch the star closely and try and emulate his actions.

“Everyone needs to note how he warms up before the net session,” the hard taskmaster barked as Vengsarkar entered the arena.

But the star’s pre-nets fitness regime,rather the lack of it,was to leave the coach embarrassed. After making a couple of circles with his wrists and stretching his body as if letting out a yawn,Vengsarkar took guard. That deceptive lethargy disappeared the moment the first ball hit his bat. What followed was a two-hour exhibition of profound batsmanship that left him drained. The precise moment of his pencil-thin feet took his bony frame in the perfect position to impart that subtle push to the ball that would send it racing on the rebound.

The modest coach tried his best to dissuade the young cricketers from aping Vengsarkar’s non-existent pre-batting workout but it was futile. The impressionable boys had cracked the secret of “effortless” batting by watching their hero in action. Endless laps of cricket field,frog jumps or sprint sessions that their coach advocated were a waste of time,they concluded. Rolling wrists followed by a draining net session was the recipe for success at the top level. Actually that was the template Indian batsmen have followed for years. On that harsh summer afternoon,Vengsarkar had unwittingly passed on a habit he might have picked up while watching greats on the famous Mumbai maidans to a group of aspiring small-town cricketers.

Indian cricket’s prima donnas,the batsmen,till very recently believed physical drills or fielding sessions were nothing but a waste of energy. They were of the view that it was wise to spend an extra hour facing throwdowns than spend time on a treadmill,lift weights or even slide around the turf. Catching was fine but diving stops and full-body stretching to stop runs were way too dangerous for their precious limbs.

So when Mahendra Singh Dhoni questioned the fielding credentials of the team’s top three batsmen,he was shaking an ancient ivory tower,perched on which were men who had scored thousands of runs while playing several match-winning knocks. And here he was,the new-age captain,making a fuss about the 20 runs which he perceived the ageing masters conceded by their slow movement and weak throws.

Isn’t it illogical to drop men who have scored a 200 in an ODI because they might,repeat might,collectively concede 20 runs while fielding? Isn’t the fielding flaw of these batting assets way too minuscule or insignificantly incidental? Obviously,the answer is yes for both questions. So does that mean Dhoni got it wrong? Not,really.

In fact,the Indian captain,by his statement,didn’t just show courage but vision too. Dhoni has understood that in the modern-day game,making runs has become easier than saving them. Three hundred-plus scores have lost their intimidating aura. Big hits are more frequent than dream balls that leave the stumps shattered. ODI tons are an everyday affair,while a fiver is a rarity.

Since batsmen have found ways to hit perfect yorkers to send the ball over the fence,bowlers are becoming increasing insignificant. In such a scenario,fielders need to step up. They need to stop runs and take wickets through run-outs too. The 30-yard circle needs to be a no-run zone during power plays while the man in the deep can’t be pardoned if he concedes a “two” to a stroke played straight at him.

In other words,the batsmen need to develop a second skill that would make them relevant in the half when they are not wearing pads. For years,the run-makers have behaved like elite architects in sharp suits while the rest have laboured. It’s high time batsmen too got their hands dirty,since the game has moved from the time when one of the perks of scoring a ton was getting excused from fielding.

India might have won the World Cup at home with quite a few ageing slow movers,but in future this might not be possible. As compared to their seniors,the GenNext batsmen Virat Kohli,Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina spend far more time doing fielding drills before they pad up. That should be the new template.

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