Are we get­ting sick of be­ing fed this diet of big-hit­ting?

Garfield Robin­son sug­gests that the ODI game’s ob­ses­sion with sixes is de­stroy­ing the nu­ances of cricket

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE -

Ri­cardo Pow­ell de­manded the at­ten­tion of the cricket com­mu­nity in 1999 with a demon­stra­tion of what was then some un­be­liev­able hit­ting dur­ing the Coca-Cola Chal­lenge fi­nal in Sin­ga­pore. The tri-na­tion ODI se­ries in­cluded Zim­babwe and In­dia, and In­dia had set the West Indies a chal­leng­ing to­tal of 255 to win.

The Ja­maican right-han­der struck 124 off 93 de­liv­er­ies, smash­ing nine fours and eight sixes, res­cu­ing the West Indies from a per­ilous 67-4 when he joined the fray in the 17th over and drag­ging them to a spec­tac­u­lar four-wicket win.

Pow­ell had sum­moned the kind of power and tim­ing that few bats­men could. Blow af­ter blow flew into the crowds or out of the ground. On­look­ers and pun­dits were giddy with ex­cite­ment. Some, like Ian Chap­pell, if me­mory serves, had no com­punc­tion in view­ing his po­ten­tial as not un­like that of a young Viv Richards, and the in­nings was re­played and lauded far and wide.

But not ev­ery­one was en­tirely sold on the in­nings. Fast-bowl­ing great Michael Hold­ing, for in­stance, was more cau­tious than most. He men­tioned the fact that Pow­ell had hit more sixes than fours and that that “was not how the game is nor­mally played”.

Hold­ing was right. Sixes were then, as they had been through­out the game’s his­tory, the bats­man’s scarcest trad­ing cur­rency. “Bet­ter to keep the ball on the ground,” the purists ar­gued.

But Hold­ing was only right on the game as it was played at the time. Cricket, es­pe­cially lim­ited overs cricket, is a dif­fer­ent game nowa­days. The emer­gence of its new­est and briefest for­mat has urged bats­men to be­come more ad­ven­tur­ous, more in­no­va­tive. That, along with bat sizes, field­ing re­stric­tions, shorter bound­aries, power plays and free hits has had the un­sur­pris­ing ef­fect of dra­mat­i­cally in­creas­ing scor­ing rates and to­tals.

Even the great six-hit­ters of the past, Ian Botham and Viv Richards for ex­am­ple, could hardly have imag­ined in their day that the ball could be de­posited over the bound­ary with such ease and reg­u­lar­ity. To­day’s bats­men have sub­stan­tially ex­panded the bound­aries of bat­ting, re­fin­ing the sci­ence of hit­ting the ball far and of­ten.

A few years ago, Sir Viv ob­served that there are steps the au­thor­i­ties should take, like length­en­ing bound­aries “if we do not just want to see sixes and fours”. The An­tiguan, a great hit­ter in his time, thinks bound­ary hit­ting has be­come too easy. “With the bound­aries that we see, es­pe­cially with the im­prove­ment of bats, you should have de­cent-sized bound­aries.”

Bowlers are also un­fairly pun­ished de­spite gain­ing a vic­tory, of sorts, over the bats­man. “You can have a bats­man who goes for a hook shot,” Sir Viv said, “and be­cause of the fact he is a lit­tle late on the shot he gets a top edge and be­cause of the qual­ity of that bat it goes for six. In my mind that is a mis­take. That’s the po­si­tion the bowler would have got him into – mak­ing that false shot. When you think you have him it’s sail­ing over the bound­ary.”

Hold­ing, who had a ca­reer econ­omy rate of 3.32 in ODIs, said, while do­ing com­men­tary on the 2015 World Cup, that

It might be a stretch to say big-hit­ting is de­stroy­ing cricket but could it not be ar­gued that it has be­come too com­mon­place?

he’d be sat­is­fied with an econ­omy rate of six were he play­ing to­day. His re­marks stand as a tes­ta­ment to the di­rec­tion in which the game has gone.

In the 1999 World Cup there were only two scores over 300. For the 2011 tour­na­ment, that num­ber rose to 17. And the 2015 com­pe­ti­tion saw 28 to­tals over 300, in­clud­ing three that went past 400.

The re­cent ICC Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy tour­na­ment saw seven to­tals ex­ceed­ing 300 in the 15 matches, some of which were badly af­fected by rain. There were also scores of 299 and 291.

Bangladesh might have felt rea­son­ably sat­is­fied dur­ing the open­ing game of the tour­na­ment at the Oval when they set Eng­land what ought to have been a chal­leng­ing 306 runs win; only for the hosts to com­plete the chase with eight wick­ets and over two overs to spare. Un­flus­tered and un­hur­ried, Alex Hales, Joe Root, and Eoin Mor­gan (95, 133 and 75 re­spec­tively), seemed to not even break sweat. And yet the re­sult was hardly ever in ques­tion.

Tour­na­ment favourites, In­dia ap­peared to have been run­ning away with the game af­ter com­pil­ing 321-6 against Sri Lanka at the same venue dur­ing the com­pe­ti­tion’s eighth match. But then the Sri Lankan bats­men had other ideas, los­ing only three wick­ets while win­ning with eight de­liv­er­ies to spare. In to­day’s 50-over game, the side bat­ting first and scor­ing over 300 dare not as­sume any sense of se­cu­rity. In this the era of the bats­man, no to­tal is be­yond reach.

That cricket has be­come far friend­lier to bats­men than it is to bowlers is be­yond dis­pute. More and more, the bowlers are be­ing re­duced to the role of sup­port­ing cast, there only to carry out the per­func­tory task of pro­vid­ing fod­der for the game’s bat­ting stars. The bats­man has emerged as cricket’s fair-haired boy. The bowler is cricket’s ill-treated step child. And for a num­ber of fans, a game that in­volves a bal­anced con­test be­tween bat and ball is quite prefer­able to one in which ev­ery­thing is stacked against the bowler.

So what does this all mean for the fu­ture of the game? There are un­doubt­edly some who have wel­comed bat dom­i­nat­ing ball in the man­ner that it is. View­ing six af­ter six climb­ing out of the ground is ex­cit­ing. But at what point does it be­come too much? At what point do we agree the game loses some value with the bowler be­ing so di­min­ished? How long be­fore the game be­comes too lack­ing in in­trigue and nu­ance?

Take base­ball: on av­er­age, the num­ber of home-runs per game in the ma­jor leagues is less than two. But what if that num­ber were to rise more than ten­fold, say to 20, would home-runs still be as highly val­ued? Would they be as mo­men­tous? Or, what if the vast ma­jor­ity of box­ing matches ended in knock­outs? Wouldn’t that greatly re­duce the thrill and the drama that knock­outs gen­er­ate?

In basketball, talk that three-point scor­ing is de­stroy­ing the game is grow­ing louder and louder. It might be a stretch to say that big hit­ting is de­stroy­ing cricket, but could it not be ar­gued that it has be­come too com­mon­place? Sixes now run so rapidly into each other that it has some­times be­come dif­fi­cult to re­call in­di­vid­ual max­i­mum hits.

Sixes used to be mem­o­rable be­cause they were rel­a­tively rare. That is no longer the case. Are we run­ning the risk of grow­ing numb to all this big hit­ting and heavy scor­ing?

Get out of here! West Indies' Ri­cardo Pow­ell clears the ropes

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Hales storm: the Bangladesh at­tack suffers as Alex Hales hits a six in dur­ing the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy

Power and poise: Viv Richards

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