Cricket has always had its slots, and specialists who defined them. The fast bowlers took the new ball, the spinners came into the game as the surface got worn out, the openers took the shine off the ball and played themselves in … it was all very organised and largely predictable. Only occasionally did a middle-order man walk out first, the spinner always had to bide his time and getting first use of the new ball was a sign of your importance in the side (unless of course you were India in the 60s and drew lots overnight for who took the new ball next morning!).
The specialists were widely respected, you looked for people of certain character to fill slots (you aspired to be No. 3 for example!) and it never crossed anyone’s mind that specialisation could also be a limitation!
And apart from the odd adventurous captain, 50 overs cricket didn’t deviate from an accepted format too much either. Yes, Sanath Jayasuriya redefined opening batting and greats like Tendulkar, Ganguly, Gilchrist and Mark Waugh batted at different positions in Tests and one-dayers.
Occasionally a spinner would get the new ball, sometimes a batsman would be forced to don wicket keeping gloves but you hardly ever ran the risk of being expelled from the flock for doing something blasphemous. Yes, the loopy bouncer came along, the paddle shot was played occasionally but that was mildly deviant behaviour.
Then T20 came along and challenged everything. It seemed anyone was batting anywhere, bowlers were bowling an over here, an over there, balls were being hit in strange corners, the boundary ropes were a little stretch away, the bends in actions grew more pronounced (and everyone looked the other way!). For the lover of Test cricket this was like his suprabhatam interrupted with hard rock. T20 was guerrilla warfare and you had to surprise from time to time.
And yet, without realising it, the game drifted into slots and specialists; especially about who batted and bowled at the end of the innings. You had designated finishers, big fellows with big bats who came in at the end and smoked the ball out of the ground! And bowlers, who apparently bowled different deliveries and tried to trick the big guys into playing wild shots. But in the little we have seen at IPL 7 and at the World T20, at least one of those slots is being challenged. And I can already see people saying: why didn’t we do that before.
The men in question are George Bailey and Glenn Maxwell. When Maxwell first continued…