Samir Chopra August 17, 2010

When the going is easy, the tough get going

Some time ago, on this blog , I'd written that one of the aims in my posts was to pay tributes to (what seemed to me) unheralded cricketing achievements

Some time ago, on this blog, I'd written that one of the aims in my posts was to pay tributes to (what seemed to me) unheralded cricketing achievements. Another of my plans was to try and provide counter-arguments to claims commonly made in the heat of a cricketing debate. Here is one example: "this innings by batsman X is worthless because it was made on an easy pitch against a substandard attack."

The sentiment at the heart of this claim is admirable. It is typically made in the context of comparing two players' records, and the intention is to establish a distinction between innings made in more trying circumstances and those made in situations where the batsman is, to put it mildly, not taxed excessively. That sort of difference is often crucial, and it is an interesting example of how the numerical marker of an innings is not enough to judge its quality.

There are times, however, when this claim shades into a more extreme claim, one that would want to completely discount all large scores made in this fashion, to the extent that they are taken to not provide any evidence whatsoever of the batsman's abilities.

That, I think, takes matters a little too far.

The simple fact is that making a very large score is a difficult business and it is not really made any easier when dealing with pie-chuckers and roads. One little cricketing fact gets in the way, encapsulated in the sage advice given to young batsmen over the years: "Make one mistake and you're back in the pavilion." And one thing pie-chuckers and roads do very well is induce a false sense of confidence, which leads to that optimistic drive down to long-on, resulting in, well, that long walk back to the pavilion.

I realized this thanks to a batting experience of mine many years ago. In backyard cricket, no less. My fearsome opponent was my kid cousin, a young lad who was dutifully serving up a mixture of full-tosses, half-volleys, and delectable short-and-wide ones. The boundary was barely 20 feet behind him. I had just seen Zaheer Abbas lay the Indian attack to waste, and I was keen to emulate his feats. I had also never scored a century in any form of the game (my highest score, in any game where scores were kept, is a paltry 38). The stage was set.

I started out promisingly. Boundaries were there for the taking; Sandeep Patil and his five consecutive fours off Bob Willis had nothing on me. I was lashing them straight, over the bowler's head, wide of his despairing reach (did I mention that there were no fielders?). But somehow I couldn't get to a hundred, no matter how many times my cousin and I repeated this little slaughter. Invariably I dismissed myself; I would be bowled aiming an ambitious drive, or would hoick the ball over the back fence (an automatic out as everyone knows). It was all a little too easy. Carelessness and hubris got in the way.

Those twin demons take down batsmen all the time. Sometimes boredom does the trick. Whatever it is, the business of making a large score requires at the least, a batsman to survive long enough to make it.

And that survival still needs to be sensitive to the danger that lurks behind every delivery sent down by a bowler, a sensitivity which requires concentration and batting ability in equal measure.

So, by all means, do take claims of cricketing deification with a large spoonful of salt when you notice that a batsman has racked up runs on a featherbed. But don't write it off completely. That batsman still knows how to not lose his wicket. And that is most definitely one part of being a great bat.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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  • testli5504537 on August 27, 2010, 15:13 GMT

    Tendulkar has his own style of playing.this is true that he cannot be compared with sehwag.Sehwag plays aggresively.recently he scored 110 runs off just 93 balls.when he scored tripple century against south seemed to me that it was a highlight package.on the other hand tendulkar plays diffensively and times the ball to perfection.

  • testli5504537 on August 20, 2010, 17:34 GMT

    Tendulkar is a class of his own. He can not be compared with Sehwag. But coming to performance, Sehwag seems to be the present era Bradman. Look at his big scores against tough oppositions like AUS,SA & SL. He has scored against the best of bowling attacks in the world. He has a triple 100 against Pak,SA & 200 against spinning wizard Murli. Then if you look his hundreds are always big hundreds. Either he doesnot score or if he scores then he scores it heavily. Most of his hundreds are over 150 & the brutality with which he scores his runs is worth watching.

  • testli5504537 on August 20, 2010, 14:55 GMT

    "Kapil & Vinoth both are saying same thing but for different players. But both are forgetting that its even not easy to bat against weak attack."

    This was a hilarious statement :) The problem with batting against weak bowling is not just that it's easy, it is easy after all it's "weak" bowling. The problem is maintaining concentration and not throwing away your wicket trying to hit a pie out the park. I also agree with Shaumik. Tendulkar has made a business out of making "cheap" runs, that is runs made on dead wickets. People forget that the bowling attack is only one part of the equation, some pitches now can drive bowlers insane. Bowlers who can exploit dead tracks are few and far between, the best was probably Malcolm Marshall.

  • testli5504537 on August 19, 2010, 21:06 GMT

    Vivek: I think Sehwag, brilliant as he is, takes things a little lightly against weak teams and ends up making a mistake. This is partly the point that Samir makes in this blog. I am sure if he changes his mental approach he will easily score big against weaker teams as well.

  • testli5504537 on August 19, 2010, 8:19 GMT

    Some people pick Tendulkar's one or two matches and criticise him. That shows their envy to him. He is the only player to score century against all teams and particularly against Australia. He did not play too many matches against Canada, Bangala Desh, Zimbawe like some players and take credit for batting abd bowling averages. Despite undergoing worst operations he performed well. If I say Tendulkar is good that does not mean others are bad.

  • testli5504537 on August 19, 2010, 6:47 GMT

    Whatever you all may say about different batsmen, but one thing is for sure that Virender Sehwag is the one who relishes strong attacks and fares much less when playing against weaker teams...

  • testli5504537 on August 19, 2010, 1:07 GMT

    Shaumik: One cannot use isolated few matches and generalize using a cherry picking method. As to matches of 30 or even 50+ years ago, many of those pitches were feather beds too. It is quite well documented, for they played 6 day and timeless Tests and scores were large. Body line itself was invented by frustrated bowlers for just that reason. During a short era of uncovered pitches things became sticky and erratic and the toss and or luck (e.g. overnight extra moisture) played too large a part. Hence covered pitches were introduced. However, your point regarding inferior equipment is valid. This is why it is very difficult if not impossible to do cross generational comparisons.

  • testli5504537 on August 18, 2010, 18:15 GMT

    The picture shows Hayden's name. Though I am from India, as a keen observer of cricket, I would like to mention Tendulkar's double century against SL recently. He scored a double century in placid track and only when Murali and Malinga was not in the team!! Yet people keep telling he is the greatest batsman after Bradman. Wonder what about all those greats who played in UNKNOWN pitches, GREAT QUALITY FAST BOWLING and no restrictions of the number of bouncers per over and with inferior gears... and yet have avereages over 45 and some of them have ovr 50 !!!!!

  • testli5504537 on August 18, 2010, 13:20 GMT

    Kapil & Vinoth both are saying same thing but for different players. But both are forgetting that its even not easy to bat against weak attack.

  • testli5504537 on August 18, 2010, 7:20 GMT

    haven't you seen his batting in the 3rd test... after laxman he was the best batsman in that test... get your fact right kapil bhai. but if you say this abt mahela its understandable i sai

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