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Revolutionary batting styles adds spice to the gameplan

How often over the years have you heard the phrase, if the law is an ass, it is time to change it, been uttered?

Apart from maligning, the poor animal known as the ‘beast of burden’ – or the domesticated donkey – it has been repeated often enough. Yet any reason to change any law in question needs careful examination, not just a cursory glance, as some would prefer.

Angelo Mathews

It is often when there is confusion over what is legal and what is not under the laws of cricket that frequently creates doubt among even the most astute of analysts. A glaring example of this occurred at Trent Bridge, Nottingham in the Angelo Mathews fielding incident last week that was quickly sorted out on the field, although this did require television technology to pass on the correct outcome from the third umpire to bowler umpire, in this case Billy Bowden.

This particular incident, and the accuracy of Nigel Long’s interpretation of the two laws involved, questioned as it has been by letter comments in some English media, explains why such incidents are over magnified to create a wrong impression and lead to unjustified controversy.

I shall return to the Mathews juggling act later, Yahaluweni, but it does suggest how the Marylebone Cricket Club has long moved from its fusty image and into the 21st century, understanding how the legacy burden which current lawmakers at the MCC have had to suffer. This is because of those who ran the game as an old boys club from the inception of the International Cricket Council in 1912, until it was challenged in the late 1970s over the Kerry Packer banning of players and the restrain of trade issue.

Yet it is a question of the law, which has Ian Chappell, a former Australian captain and now television commentator an unhappy chappie over the switch-hit. His argument is that as the bowler is indicating what he is bowling, the batsman has no right changing his stance from being a right to lefthander or from a lefthander to that of a righthanded batsman. It is a simplistic view but to suggest it is illegal is arguing over a law that doesn’t exist, which means you cannot change it.

In Galle last year, while watching Virender Sehwag plunder that brilliant double century against Sri Lanka, views as well as interpretation of the switch hit were tossed around during a casual conversation. It is my opinion, that there is nothing wrong with it, but a Sri Lankan commentator at the time suggested that had it been attempted by an Asian batsman it would have been ruled illegal. It is a view, which is hard to agree with, no matter who uses it, the innovative thought behind it, as well as the practice to get it right is inventive enough.

No where in the laws of the game does it refer to left or right and batsmen, or their stance; only a bowler’s action is described to explain what is a fair or not a fair delivery.

There is argument here, but the MCC upheld that in their view the switch-hit used by Kevin Pietersen is legal; as much as it would be had Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara or Sachin Tendulkar first applied it. It is as smart a tactic as is the application by Tillekeratne Dilshan batting of the scoop shot which is an extension of the Doug Marillier scoop shot that had its seed planted by former Zimbabwe captain and coach Dave Houghton.

Marillier held the bat parallel to the pitch with the toe of the bat pointing towards the bowler, allowing him to either flick or scoop the ball over the wicketkeeper’s head, which is a different action to that used by Dilshan. It could be argued how Dilshan’s smart revolutionary tactic is an extension of the original Marillier flick, but he has refined it and it has become a more sophisticated stroke.

Just as has Pietersen’s other fancy trick, the flamingo shot earned runs and added style to his repertoire: this is a part leg-glance part drive effort that had one commentator referring to it as a ‘cross-court flick,’ with the batsman standing on one leg, hence the term flamingo. Effective it is, ungainly . . ? Well that is a matter of opinion.

It is up to the fielding captain, the bowler and a streetwise bowling coach to find ways to get around such a new batting fad. It does explain how, in the modern game with focus on the short showbiz brand, the ICC World Twenty20 series now in England, and the 50/50 game, innovation is needed to overcome improved fielding standards and bowling skills. Further comment here about Sri Lankan coaches might end up with more obtuse emails (mostly from Down Under) suggesting how such views expressed in these files are full of ‘hidden agendas’.

Anyway, in September1988, when Bob Woolmer was one of several coaches at what they now call the South African high performance academy centre in Pretoria, he was in charge of the batting clinics of a four-day camp of skilled young players. It had such future international worthies as Jonty Rhodes, Andrew Hudson, Mike Rindel, Daryll Cullinan, Hansie Cronjé and Adrian Kuiper among others in the squad.

Bob was displaying the use and effectiveness of the reverse sweep as he had observed being employed by Pakistan’s Mushtaq Mohammed when they were still playing in the 1970s.

It has been argued how it was Mushtaq’s brother, the great Hanif, who first played this particular stroke as a way to score runs in limited overs internationals as their popularity grew in the pre-Packer era. Bob had not been shy to admit how he had watched Mushtaq play the reverse sweep and its run-making qualities, making it popular during his first spell as coach of Warwickshire and for others to copy.

Innovative strokeplay, as much as a bowler learning new tricks to fool the batsmen is a natural part of the game’s progress and as explained last week, the theory of the game is that it is becoming more vibrant each passing year. To remain competitive at international level, one has to keep changing for the good of the side of which you are a member, as it helps develop ideas.

This is something learnt when doing a level two coaching course in Centurion, South Africa in 1989 when we had a think tank (so-called brainstorming) session about modern techniques after watching a scratchy video of such golden oldies as K S Ranjitsinhji, Gilbert Jessop, Sir Jack Hobbs and Sir Donald Bradman. Do not forget as well, how, in the pre-World War 1 era (up to 1914), a batsman had to hit the ball out of the ground, a la Chris Gayle against the Australians at The Oval, for it to be recorded a six. Merely clearing the boundary was a four – later a five.

It is why you had such big hitting batsmen in that era, who all played on rain-affected pitches and had to use their feet against crafty spin bowlers who used such conditions to bowl sharp leg-cutters or off-cutters.

As for the Mathews fielding acrobatics juggling efforts, which totally bemused Ian Bishop, the commentator at the time, it is a matter of knowing your law and applying it, as did in this case Nigel Long. At no stage did Mathews have his feet grounded when palming the ball back into the field of play from outside the boundary, which allowed him to save the six.

It is not a dubious decision at all as suggested in a couple of references in England print media to the Mathews fielding effort, but smart thinking. It left Dwayne Bravo puzzled over being denied the six, but as the on-field umpires were not in the correct position to judge, the natural call is to ‘go up stairs’ to the TV monitor, hence the fairness and correct result of the fielding.

There is a similar action earlier this year when an Australian fieldsman Adam Voges pulled off an equally bizarre catch to dismiss Brandon McCullum. In trying to take the catch at long-on off Nathan Bracken’s bowling, Voges had managed to toss the ball upwards before tripping over the boundary, yet had quickly enough recovered to complete the catch. McCullum watched the events along with Voges’ bemused Australian teammates on the big screen and accepted his fate.

As it was given scant mention in Sri Lankan newsprint media, it has been quickly forgotten.

As for Sri Lanka’s efforts to win another ICC event – officially titled the ICC World T20 and not as some media keep referring to is as a World Cup when there is only one World Cup – hopes remain high.

It is little more than two years since Sri Lanka were South Asia’s sole representative in the semi-finals of the last dysfunctionally organised World Cup. It is now four months since the nation’s players were victims of terrorists in Lahore, yet such has been their mental strength, as members of the battered island, where terrorism still stalked the streets, they have managed to overcome such trials and tribulations.

What was interesting though is how, when Sri Lanka played the West Indies lined up, the PA system want everyone to stand to attention to sing the two national anthems. While the Sri Lanka players seemed to mumble their way though, the West Indian players were largely mute when David Rudder’s tuneful ‘Rally around the West Indies’ was belted out.

Unlike Sri Lanka which is one island, the West Indies is made up of a collection of nations, which suggests a West Indies national anthem is a terrible administrative misnomer; a lesson for to be remembered for those organisers of the 2011 the World Cup.

email: lbwbambrose@gmail.com

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