Signs of the times

T20 cricket has forced batsmen to think on their feet. Obviously it has come too late for older hands but youngsters arrive with fresh and open minds and can seek shots that send the ball to surprising places, writes Peter Roebuck.

David Warner and J. P. Duminy are the forerunners of a new generation of batsmen. Of course it is too early to recognise the nuggetty Australian raised in a Housing Commission as a batsman of high calibre. Duminy, though, has been convincing in every form of the game and is the most impressive young batsman to emerge in the last few years. Moreover the pair has a lot in common, including, audacity, imagination and adaptability. Coaches ought to take a close look at their t echniques and routes to the top.

Cricket has been worried that the growing importance of T20 might impair batting skills by causing youngsters to ignore craftsmanship in favour of power and daring. For decades, instructors concentrated on defence, talked about left elbows and precisely placed feet and occupying the crease. But games must evolve.

Table tennis players grip the racquet to promote spin. Without abandoning the basics, golfers have widened their range of shots. T20 has likewise forced batsmen to think on their feet. Obviously it has come too late for older hands but youngsters arrive with fresh and open minds and can seek shots that send the ball to surprising places. They practice them in the nets and regard them as part and parcel of the modern game.

Even in longer matches most of the emerging batsmen try to dominate. Coaches used to talk about averages and building an innings. Nowadays scoring rates dominate conversations. Whereas the adventurous batsman used to be placed at number five, these days he is just as likely to open the innings.

Warner, especially, proved himself in 20-overs cricket. Encouraged to go for his shots, he discovered that he could belt the best domestic bowlers around. Whereas most youngsters feel obliged to dig in, he played every shot in his repertoire. Not that he threw the bat. To the contrary his head was still and his shots were calculated. And he hit the ball hard. Once fear has been removed what can hold a man back?

Duminy’s ability to adapt his batting to different forms of the game underlined the capacity of the young and uncluttered mind. In Test cricket he found his own tempo and retained it under the severest pressure. In 20-overs flings he was prepared to improvise. His flexibility and soundness confirmed that batsmanship is alive and well but just no longer wearing a collar and tie. Far from spoiling batting, early exposure to 20-overs cricket may advance it by allowing players to explore their ability before the clay dries.

Duminy and Warner have another significant thing in common. Both bat “the wrong way around.”

Cricket has been taken over by left-handers. India has not been swamped quite as much as other countries because its great batting heroes have belonged to the mainstream but sooner or later the forces behind the rise of lefties will prove irresistible. In the 1980s left-handers scored roughly 22% of Test runs. In the last five years the percentage has risen to 42. The figures are too dramatic to be brushed aside. Within a decade the very notion of left and right handed batting may have changed.

Consider the candidates in the queue to replace Matthew Hayden, whose retirement provoked from some quarters testimonies so glowing that he might have been seeking sainthood. The list includes Phil Jacques, Phil Hughes, Chris Rogers, Shaun Marsh and Michael Hussey, southpaws all. Not a single right-hander has been mentioned. For that matter they will walk out alongside Simon Katich.

Duminy and Warner are welcome additions to the game. They are also the signs of the times.