In the build-up to the Champions Trophy when everyone was debating the ideal composition of the Indian team,the effect of possible early summer conditions in England dominated conversation. The picture being painted was one of grassy,even damp pitches,the ball was expected to swing and seam a great deal and,with good reason,there was concern over Indias batting which was expected to be flamboyant but not quite resilient enough. With two new balls,we thought it would swing throughout the innings and that old-fashioned test match batting would be the way to go.
We are halfway into the league phase as I write this and while teams have preferred to bat like in test cricket for a major part and like in T20 thereafter,and while it has been cloudy and cold,everything else has been quite contrary to expectations. The pitches have been dry,the ball isnt exactly nipping away in all directions and teams are checking out their spin bowling options. A traditional swing and seam country like New Zealand is using three spinners to deliver half their overs and even South Africa have,after initial hesitation,resorted to Phangiso,Peterson and Duminy. And the new ball hasnt swung. From release to batsman,it has produced straight lines not wicked arcs like you think you might see in England. Add the two factors and you can see why Indias batsmen have enjoyed themselves so far!
Indeed,Indias refreshingly stroke filled approach has been one of two talking points with Englands ability to reverse the ball rather early being the other. Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have batted with freedom,they have hit on the rise,they have hit in the air and they have used their feet delightfully. And they havent been alone! In doing so they have re-ignited the debate about whether the IPL is scaling up batsmanship in the 50 over game or diminishing generally accepted skills.
While in India,it has become fashionable to look upon the IPL as a cauldron of evil,there has been relatively lesser debate on the impact it has had on the playing of the game. I suspect batsmanship is undergoing a change in respect to what is considered risky and what no longer is. Where classical batsmanship,as embodied by the English top three of Cook,Bell and Trott,would nudge the ball,place it in the gaps,continue to put a price on a wicket,Indias batsmen are happy to hit through the line,search for boundaries even after the power play overs are gone and hit the ball in the air quite consistently. I think it is likely that T20 is showing that the risk associated with certain shots was over-estimated,that hitting over cover for example,may actually be a percentage shot if the surface is conducive.
The IPL may have become a laboratory for testing out new shots,certainly it seems AB de Villiers has used it that way,but it is not alone because two outstanding young players havent been part of it and that leads me to think it is a more global trend. Just before the Champions Trophy began Martin Guptill produced two stroke filled hundreds and his shotmaking in his 189 at Southampton was,by all accounts,breathtaking. And young Joss Butler,even if currently batting down the order,is showing the way for a new generation of English batsmen. It seems there is a fresh air blowing across the cricket world and we must respect it.
The other interesting cricketing issue is the ability of the England bowlers to get the ball to reverse swing so early in the game against Australia,and indeed in the last one day game against New Zealand. Now,reverse swing has always been looked at with a lot of suspicion,like the black sheep in the family,and so every time it pops up when it isnt expected to,tongues start wagging. And so there is a conspiracy theory,the presence of a particular player for example,but also an interesting cricketing aspect.
Against Australia,Englands bowlers bowled a lot of deliveries cross-seam. It could be because word is that this batch of white Kookaburra balls isnt swinging at all and so roughing up one side becomes more important. It would require the bowlers to land the ball consistently on the same side because the two halves have to become dissimilar. If that is indeed the case,we are seeing another very interesting development,one that could play a major role in the Ashes later this year.
For these two reasons alone,this has been an excellent tournament so far. And I wont be surprised at all if it isnt the last of its kind!
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