December 14, 2009

Mike Holmans

The slowcoaches

Mike Holmans


Rahul Dravid has a style that is even more reassuring than the Kallises and Gavaskars © AFP
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While Tim McIntosh was painstakingly putting his 74 together on Saturday, a few of the people mailing the Cricinfo commentators were moaning about his slow scoring. Then one of McIntosh's mates piped up that it was a five-day Test and this is how Test cricket should be played.

That “should” needs considerable qualification, but first-class and Test cricket are indeed the only forms of the game where long periods of defensive batting make good tactical sense – and McIntosh certainly did a useful job for New Zealand: building a platform and wearing down the bowlers on the way to an imposing team total.

I was brought up, so to speak, on batting like that. When I started watching, the England openers were very likely to be John Edrich and Geoff Boycott, who were both masters of the craft. Indeed, I'm not sure I've yet seen anyone better than Boycott at the pure business of batting for as long as possible – but as I grew up in Yorkshire, he was a childhood hero and that may introduce a certain bias.

The legacy of idolising Boycs is an enduring appreciation for the stonewaller in his various guises, though it has to be said he does not always make for riveting viewing. Often one is admiring patience, restraint, courage and stubborn determination more than the actual batting.

The sheer class of some asserts virtual supremacy – only someone who bowls as superbly as Boycott, Jacques Kallis or Sunil Gavaskar bat is going to get them out. You are watching a supreme technician at work, and even against the top bowlers, it is a tussle of equals. Every so often though, along comes a bad ball, and they play it to the boundary with a stroke of similar class. Boycott's cover drive, when he played it, was one of the finest you'll ever see; my enduring memories of Sunny include the sudden punishment of the cut or sweep after three solid overs of soft-handed killing of the spin. Shiv Chanderpaul follows roughly the same methods as those three, with about the same result, but without the functional elegance of their classical technique.

Then there are those who do not give off quite the same air of permanence: top-class bowling could easily dislodge them, one feels, although in practice they often stay in for ages. Michael Atherton, Marvan Atapattu and Dilip Vengsarkar all played great defensive innings, but somehow just weren't quite in the Boycott-Gavaskar class.

But they still had attacking strokes they could play. Gary Kirsten may have had them, but his main trait was invisibility. I know I sat in the stands and watched him compile at least two centuries, but I cannot remember a single scoring stroke. Even at the time I couldn't remember them: glancing at the scoreboard, there was 64 against his name, but I had no idea how he had accumulated them. Perhaps people just awarded him the occasional run without him actually having to hit the ball.

Then come those who really do just drop anchor and don't play any shots at all. Neil McKenzie, Brendan Nash and Thilan Samaraweera are prime examples of this wholly introverted style, but at least they seem to be doing it deliberately.

There are a few, however, who are teeth-grindingly tedious to watch. They may well have done a job for their team, but did they really have to do it like that? Zimbabwe's Trevor Gripper was awful. Worse still was Deep Dasgupta, whose hundred at Mohali in 2001 has to be the most mind-numbing I've ever seen – but he would surely not have earned that dubious distinction if Chris Tavare had ever reached three figures. Fortunately, Tav's career came fifty years too late for the timeless Test he would have needed to reach the mark. (There is, by the way, no truth to the story that umpire Gothoskar became so concerned by Tavare's immobility at Bangalore in 1981 that he insisted on checking his pulse to make sure he hadn't died at the crease.)

My favourite, though, is Rahul Dravid, who has a style even more reassuring than the Kallises and Gavaskars. The aforementioned masters would always make it clear that what they were doing was difficult, beyond the reach of mortal men. Dravid, however, seems to treat the most challenging conditions like a crossword puzzle which he is enjoying figuring out. He looks vaguely amused that the last ball was a real screamer which almost cut him in half; when a bowler delivers a relatively easy ball, Dravid peers back quizzically, as if asking why he bothered. That does not make him the greatest – my suspicion is that the title belongs to Len Hutton – but it does make him the most entertaining to watch.

I was going to say “long may he continue”, but it would be redundant. It's just what he does.

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Posted by Bhargav on (March 2, 2012, 3:27 GMT)

I can ralete. As an Indian child growing up in Mumbai until around 1996, when I moved out, I had idolised a few of the cricketers - namely Tendulkar and Azhar. Azhar enchanted me even more than Sachin though. When he left the game in controversy, I was shattered. I stopped following the sport for a while (part of it was to do with moving to South East Asia, where I couldn't really watch cricket too easily), and since then, when I've watched the game, I've done so from a much more neutral/analytical perspective (unless a few certain players are concerned), not concerning myself about overall results too much.When India collapses, it doesn't upset me particularly - ditto for when Australia lose, unless it's to England (the last Ashes loss was the only time in about 5 years that I've really felt great emotion at the outcome of a match or series). When someone like Tendulkar, whom I've grown up watching flay the best bowlers in the world, fades as rapidly as he has, it's a lot more painful. For the last three years, I've been thinking to myself "It's just a bad patch, he'll hit form soon", pointing to knocks like his Sydney 241 or the Multan 194. They're less and less frequent, and for us who grew up on a diet of Tendulkar's MRF and the runs that flowed off it, there's a lot less to cling on to.

Posted by bishal on (January 2, 2010, 20:23 GMT)

interesting take..no mention of Akash Chopra..just because he writes for Cricinfo..

Posted by seun ogunsanya on (December 18, 2009, 12:13 GMT)

Long live the slow coaches! They are keeping test cricket alive, because i believe they make the heart of a cricket team.

Posted by Kunal Talgeri on (December 16, 2009, 6:30 GMT)

Thanks so much for saying this... In making cricket a mass sport, which it should be, several conventional players of class have become endangered species. May the stone-wallers' memories live on!

Posted by fahad on (December 16, 2009, 5:40 GMT)

Shoib Muhammad was the most mind numbing stone waller I have ever seen. Too young to have seen Hanif who I suspect might be the greatest ever in this department.

Posted by waterbuffalo on (December 16, 2009, 0:16 GMT)

Long live the slow coaches, may there be more of them, I mean look at Pakistan's openers, Farhat and Butt, they can get out at any time, with any ball, that means exposing the middle order to the new and hard ball, that is not the way Tests should be. Younis Khan at 3 (formerly) could also get out in 3 balls or less, it certainly seems to be a lost art, one can remember Atherton batting nine hours to save a test against SA. To me, an even contest between bat and ball is what makes cricket watchable. 800 runs in one day-see Ind/SL is just ludicrous. Back to McIntosh, I was appalled that the LBW decision against him was oveturned because of height, a marginal decision at best, and one wholly dependent on hawkeye. The ball pitched in line, hit him in front of middle, but was overturned because of height? If he got out, Pakistan could have picked up 3 more wickets, and could have won the series. That a series altering decision was made purely because of height is even more mind numbing.

Posted by Alex on (December 15, 2009, 22:46 GMT)

Perhaps it used to be true of Samaraweera, though in all fairness, less so now. I would never label him a great, but he has become more profilic whilst becoming more positive, even if several of his runs have come on flat wickets.

On the subject of Mark Richardson. I remember him scoring an incredibly slow hundred at Lord's a few years ago ('03 or '04?); had he scored just slightly quicker, it would have put the game beyond England and turned a defeat into at least a draw.

Posted by Som on (December 15, 2009, 16:37 GMT)

Dravid is a great batsman, one of the best I have seen in terms of his contribution to the proceedings, but please do not compare him with Gavaskar. If you have watched Gavaskar play, you would know what technical superiority is. No batsman including Sachin Tendulkar bats with the kind of authority that Gavaskar did. And authority sometimes is becoming the most immovable object and yet play that role with such beauty. Dravid could be the 'wall' but he cannot be compared to the flawlessness Gavaskar exhibited. With Gavaskar on the crease, the opposing team and us viewers are assured that a result against India in test is not possible till he does not relinquish his post. One cannot watch cricket for records...its too laymanlike...seems too pedestrian, so let's not talk in terms of records...but if there is one inning which I would suggest anyone and everyone to watch, it would be the Bangalore test in which Gavaskar made 96. And you will know why you live.

Posted by Dr.M.S.A.Iyer. on (December 15, 2009, 16:00 GMT)

Hi ur true that Slow coaches are needed. But then they are the fulcrum of the Batting lineup. But it ld have been better if you had not mentioned The Wall and The Best Player according to K.P in this. They both have enviable O.D.I records too.

Posted by Swami on (December 15, 2009, 13:56 GMT)

The only difference between Dravid and others is that he has over 10,000 runs in ODI cricket and has his own asthetically pleasing hitting style. Except in the last couple of years, he has always stepped up a gear or two if the situation warranted.

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