Cricket is witnessing a spiritual return to its grassroots, to its unorganised avatar. What kids do in streets, adults are picking up in a competitive environment.
Days after he became the first batsman in IPL history to “retire out” to allow Riyan Parag to swing his bat around with just a few balls left in the innings, R Ashwin summed up the decision that shook some of the mental cobwebs around the game: “It happens in football all the time. T20 has moved towards football substitutions. We are already late. This won’t be a stigma like the non-striker run out,” he said on his YouTube channel. It’s indeed surprising that it has come so late in cricket and it’s only fitting that it took an innovator like Ashwin to push the envelope.
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Not that it was the first time in cricket. In 2018, a small cricketing nation, Belize, in a T20 international against Bahamas retired out their batsman, Howell Gillet, who was plodding along for 23 balls for just eight runs in a game against Panama. This January, in a Big Bash game in Australia, Sydney Sixers retired out Jordan Silk for the final ball of the innings as they wanted a fitter player at the non-striker’s end to run faster. In some ways, cricket is evolving closer to the soul of gully cricket. Retired outs, baby overs (where a bowler is pulled out after three balls if he is too expensive), tactical drops (where catches are deliberately dropped if it is felt that it’s better to make a struggling batsman continue rather than invite the wrath of an incoming attacker). After all, most of the innovative shots, from reverse sweep, lap shots or balls like carrom, originated in the gully cricket of yore.
Cricket is witnessing a spiritual return to its grassroots, to its unorganised avatar. What kids do in streets, adults are picking up in a competitive environment. It will be interesting to see how technology is wedded to it. There has been talk of batting cages and virtual-reality headsets to help the incoming batsmen prepare better just before they step in to bat. With the stakes so high, any innovation that helps the game improve can only be welcomed.