New rules spawn run-bonanza

Martin Guptill... the Man of the Match by a mile after a stupendous double hundred against the West Indies in the World Cup.Rohit Sharma, the only batsman to score two double hundreds in One-Day Internationals, always carries a huge burden of expectations wherever he plays.-AP

With double centuries becoming more frequent in one-day cricket, how soon can we see a triple hundred? By Shreedutta Chidananda.

It took 13 years for someone to surpass Viv Richards’s epic, unbeaten 189. Surpass not for quality — that, some believe, will never occur — but quantity. Saeed Anwar bettered that score in Chennai in 1997; it would be 13 more years before his 194 was improved on. In the last 17 months alone, batsmen have scored an ODI double hundred on four occasions. It is a reflection on how one-day cricket has transformed, and how rapidly so.

It is no coincidence that four of the six double centuries in one-day cricket have been scored since the new ODI rules were introduced. In this World Cup alone, two double tons have been scored. One fewer fielder outside the circle, two new balls that retain their hardness longer — these factors definitely make a difference.

“I think the fact that you only have four fielders out instead of five fielders makes a massive difference, and I think the fact you’ve got two brand new balls means you’re hitting a much harder cricket ball the whole way through your innings. They’re probably the main two reasons,” Michael Clarke said in Perth last month.

On March 21, Martin Guptill smashed the highest individual score in World Cups, a blistering 237 against West Indies in Wellington. In joining the list of double century-makers in one-day cricket — Rohit Sharma, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, and Chris Gayle — Guptill fits a particular mould. None of these batsmen play modern, newfangled shots — no scoops, no reverse sweeps, no tennis-style slaps and swats.

It is not necessary, then, that batsmen play these strokes — seen commonly in T20 cricket — to improve their rate of scoring. Rohit smashed 16 sixes in his 209 against Australia and Guptill 11 in his knock, but neither player was taking great risks at any stage. It doesn’t hurt, though, to attempt and pull off unorthodox shots.

Rohit Sharma, the only batsman to score two double hundreds in one-day internationals, always carries a huge burden of expectations wherever he plays.-PTI

It cannot be denied that T20 has had an influence on modern-day ODI cricket, on shot-making and on the approach to the game. “I think Twenty20 cricket in general has helped a lot of players with regard to power, as in hitting fours and sixes, but also hitting balls to different areas,” Clarke said, after Australia’s defeat of Afghanistan. “I think Glenn Maxwell was a great example of that today. You’ve seen obviously Davey (Warner), Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, they hit 360 degrees, and with only four fielders out with a hard white cricket ball, it’s pretty sort of hard to stop those sort of guys on their day.”

T20 cricket has ushered in innovative shots that have made the game more entertaining. The purists may frown upon them but as long as the batsmen are comfortable with the risk-reward ratios of the shots they’re playing, there can be no denouncing them. Maxwell has expressed his displeasure with critics calling his batting irresponsible. He had practised his wacky shots a hundred times in the nets before using them in match situations, he protested.

Clive Lloyd, a tall, graceful, classical batsman with no fondness for shots outside the textbook, had no problems with the newer inventions.

“Guys are doing all sorts of different things. It’s obvious that you have to do that in one-day cricket. Some like de Villiers are doing it to great advantage. That’s what you do in one-day cricket, you invent one or two things and once it comes off you stick with it,” he said.

What T20 cricket has also done is affect how batsmen think. No score, they now believe, is out of reach. Strike rates and run rates that seemed forbidding at one time are suddenly commonplace. Sixes are being struck more freely than they used to be.

Batsmen with the power to clear the ropes have realised that they need not place a limit on how many times they can do it in one game. If a player is in such a mood, there is little that can be done by bowling sides.

“Frankly speaking you can’t do much because if the individual is hitting sixes, you can’t have fields for it,” M. S. Dhoni felt. “More often than not, you’ll lose the short-pitch deliveries if they start hitting off that ball also. There’s not much you can do.

“You look to bluff the batsman a bit, and I believe that gives liberty to the bowlers to try a few other things if a batsman like Chris Gayle or AB de Villiers gets going. Apart from that, you don’t have a fixed plan. That’s where I feel the bowlers will have to take that extra initiative and they have to be backed up well by the fielders because if you have a 50/50 opportunity and if you grab that, it will really ease up the pressure from the fast bowlers or the spinners. I think as a unit you have to hunt in packs.”

With big scores being rattled off at alarming frequency, Clarke was asked if an individual 300 was beyond the realms of possibility. “I can guarantee you I cannot make 300 in an ODI but someone like Davey (Warner) or Chris Gayle or AB de Villiers on a smaller ground, they possibly could,” he said. “You’d probably have to open the batting, so you’ve got the full 50 overs. In this game at the moment, who knows.”