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
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
Hales storm: the Bangladesh attack suffers as Alex Hales hits a six in during the Champions Trophy
Power and poise: Viv Richards