Technique goes GenNext!

Sri Lankan batsman Tillakaratne Dilshanis poised to play his patented scoop shot.-AP

After a certain level taught technique would need to evolve. If that were true, to evolve to what extent would surely be the next dilemma, writes Saad Bin Jung.

At the last party I went to I met a mother of a budding 13-year-old cricketer, and I insisted she show me some videos of her son. She did. He was in the nets at Lord’s. She was paying an arm and a leg. He was practising the Dilshan scoop. Laugh if you may, but I believe the kid will have the last laugh.

What’s right today is scorned by many of us old timers, for we form the bulk of today’s critics. We rip into the technical deficiencies of present day players unwilling to accept that we have left behind the pure stuff while the game has moved on to the world of the realist. Many of us cannot accept that harsh reality for then we would lose the millions that we (me excluded in this list) get from being experts and coaches and such. The ‘Dil Scoop’ is the only shot that meets the perfect Yorker on the volley and deposits it over the ’keeper for a six. The kid knows what he is doing.

The dilemma of a cricket expert is known to few and discussed by fewer still. All I can say is that dead is a way of life amateurs like us considered sacred and alive is the professional’s satanic approach to thrashing the ball as if it were a source of hatred, wrenching at his livelihood with each delivery.

When Kapil Dev told me, a decade ago, that he would wait with bated breath for the batsman with his elbow out — technically perfect in every which way — to nip one back and catch him unawares I sat up and took notice. Was it wrong to have your elbow out? And then a decade later Azharuddin’s advice to Tendulkar was to open his stance to play the one that comes back — exactly Kapil’s words repeated — I scratched my head in consternation.

They were saying the same thing of pulling the top elbow in to accord an unhindered line of vision of the ball onto the bat, but in different ways and both were defying taught technique. That’s when I realised that after a certain level taught technique would need to evolve.

If that were true, to evolve to what extent would surely be the next dilemma. Don’t ask me what the correct technique for today is for I have absolutely no idea. Every time that I watch a game I just sit back amazed at the ease with which cricket is played nowadays and wonder why we made it so difficult for ourselves. The fact was that a single misreading of length could cost the batsman his life. Add to this the flat, boring wickets of today instead of the characteristic uncovered monsters of yesteryear and you have a game change.

Mohammad Azharuddin and Kapil Dev were well aware of the need to change with the times as far as 'Technique' was concerned.-V.V. KRISHNAN

From what I see, gone is the technique that the great Donald Bradman espoused; play with a dead straight bat and you offer the minimum of edges to the ball. Gone is the age-old formula of the double ‘V’, of the top hand leading with the bottom hand playing second fiddle. Gone is the perfect placement of feet, back toe facing point as you played to covers; or the steady head, the unblinking, focussed side on stance and that incredible balance that allowed a batsman to weave in and out of deliveries — allowing him to see the ball till the very end, an essential requirement on uncertain and uncovered wickets.

When the wickets started playing true, especially at first class level, there was no longer the need to see the ball onto the bat and many batsmen fell for the lure of playing through the line. Their technique evolved accordingly. Then when they arrived at the international arena reverse swing did them in. Reverse swing starts late and gives a batsman little time to adjust and unless he is seeing the ball to the very end, he stands no chance. Traditional technique was not designed to overcome such late swing and that’s when you appreciate Kapil’s and Azhar’s words and accept that though they defy technique, they make so much practical sense.

The fact that both Kapil and Azhar have realised that the cricket of old is dead and that technique has to be transcended by improvisations further enhances my beliefs. And thank God for these two, still not contract- bound to the Board and able to speak their mind. We need such brilliant players to speak up. That’s the only way we can bridge the gap between the past and the present and understand the inner nuances, the rights and wrongs of today’s technique in order for us to plan for the morrow.

The term ‘risk’ has been redefined by today’s players. As we all know the game changers have been better equipment, protective gear and covered wickets. The bats of today have made a huge difference. Earlier a full-blooded cover drive would trickle to the boundary but today all it takes is a thump.

Earlier the front foot never dared to wander and batsmen remained on the back foot against the speedsters; today they predetermine and lunge forward at will and laugh every time that the ball hits the helmet. And in place of the cricket of old what we have is the bobbing head, legs splayed wide, an open chested stance, the double ‘U’ grip, the solid bottom hand leading the ungainly placement of feet in a manner where one wonders how the batsman keeps the ball away from his wicket leave alone thrash it to the boundary consistently.

The once graceful and eloquent cover drive is now a devastating, murderous front-footed blow, a thump and sometimes an open batted slash, hit with such incredible force that the ball dents the hoardings. Earlier to hit a six, one would put everything into the shot and pray, if the timing was right the ball sailed over the boundary else it was the long walk back. But now players are hitting a six off the back foot over mid on and mid off with contemptuous ease and even mishits are going over. This shot along with the Dil Scoop and the helicopter shot were never taught in our days simply because people didn’t believe they could be played.