September 26, 2013

The hook: cricket's bravest shot

Other strokes may be more elegant, but there's nothing to quite match the elemental thrill of the hook

The hook isn't boring even when it doesn't come off © AFP

A dozen or so years ago, when with great enthusiasm I built the first incarnation of my academic homepage, I put up a "Leisure" section as well and inserted the following lines to indicate my cricket fandom:

Cricket: quite simply, the world's greatest game, bar none. I'm a fanatical fan that worships batsmen that play the hook well.

I still stand by those lines.

The cover drive is sometimes reckoned the most elegant cricket shot of all: its exponents the most graceful, the most accomplished batsmen of all. But the cover drive cannot compete, I think, with the hook for drama, for the frisson it provides the fan in the stands and the couch potato back home, for its expert marriage of the two most thrilling sights in cricket, a fast bowler and a fearless, aggressive batsman, for its blend of foolhardiness and skill.

When it comes off, there's nothing quite like it: the bowler runs in at full tilt and sends his missile hurtling, off the deck; the batsman swivels, turning the bat over and down, fiercely hooks, and the ball soars away, perhaps on a downward trajectory, perhaps upwards and over the fence. And even when the hook doesn't come off, there is action aplenty: perhaps a dramatic catch far away at fine leg, the fielder precariously close to the fence, perhaps a knock on the noggin' that leaves the batsman groggy - crumpled on the ground like an especially unstable house of cards - and the fielders sympathetic (sometimes).

I don't think there's two ways about it: there is nothing quite like a reflexive hook off the eyebrows played by an attacking batsman off a genuinely quick bowler. It all happens quickly; no other shot quite makes us catch our breath like a hook. No other shot speaks so much of bravado, of boldness. If you are a youngster, and want to be described as "courageous", play a hook in your debut innings against the opposition's leading fast bowler. Conversely, even if you are a great batsman with an excellent record against the quicks, but don't play the hook, you run the risk of being described as not quite "complete" in your armoury, as being not quite up to the task of facing the fast men. Playing the hook well guarantees a certain standing in the fan's and journalist's memory.

Why does the hook thrill us so? Most centrally because it is difficult and it is dangerous; it is defiant and dismissive. That's an awful alliteration but its central message should be clear. The hook is a bold, brave response to the fast bowler's most dreaded weapon, the bouncer directed at the head. It is a flirtation with danger, directed toward not just the scoring of runs but also to resisting the fast bowler's attempt to impose his will on the batsman. It speaks of resistance and arrogance alike.

Small wonder then that the batsmen who have played the hook well thrill us so: Viv Richards, Kim Hughes, Alvin Kallicharran, Richie Richardson, Ian Chappell, David Hookes, Gordon Greenidge and Mohinder Amarnath are just some of my personal favourites. Each of these batsmen had a distinctive style; each made himself memorable, in part because of his execution of the hook in particular. Indeed, even Graeme Wood, though a catastrophically bad runner between the wickets, still evokes fond memories in those who have seen him bat - whether live or on video - because he played the hook so well.

It is no coincidence that just about every batsman on my list above is West Indian or Australian. The cricketing environment in those climes: the pitches, the fast bowlers, the presence of batting role models for whom the hook was an integral part of the batting armoury, these have all ensured a steady supply of happy hookers. (The Don himself was an accomplished player of the shot.)

Modern batsmen do not seem to play the hook as frequently or as well. Pitches, of course, are slower. And batsmen today wear helmets, which diminishes the thrill of the hook somewhat; it becomes a safer shot. All of this is a pity, for we have been fortunate enough to witness many fast bowling greats in action in recent times; the perfect complement to their aggression would be that of the batsman.

In these, as in many other ways, the game of cricket, despite much technical advancement, has been ever so slightly impoverished.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Harsh on September 30, 2013, 17:37 GMT

    The most majestic exponent of the hook shot was Sir Vivian Richards who executed it with the authority of an Emperor commanding his subjects.He deployed the hook like an army giving famous counter-attack to crush the enemy.Rohan Kanhai falling hook shot was an invention of his very own and looked lika musician creating a composition.Amongst Englishman Colin Cowdrey and Graham Gooch deployed the stroke in a masterly fashion.No batsmen deployed it as effectively against the great Carribean pace quartet as Mohinder Amanrnath did in 1983 in the Carribean.Ian Chappell would also intimidate the likes of those great paceman using the hook shot in any conditions.Amongst left-handers Gary Sobers,Clive Lloyd and Roy Fredricks were the most audacious while Alvin Kalicharan and David Gower were the most artistic hookers.

  • Harsh on September 30, 2013, 16:51 GMT

    To me the best exponents of the hook shot have been Viv Richards,Stan Mcabe.Rohan Kanhai,Majid Khan,Ian Chappell ,Mohinder Amarnath and Sandeep Patil.

    Viv Richards gained untold glory hooking Lillee and Thomson of the front foot with the agression of a tiger attacking it's prey.Stan Mcabe acheived what Bradman did not against bodyline bowling.Rohan Kanhai had his own falling shot which was a superb improvisation.I will always cherish memories of Mohinder Amarnath hooking the great Carribaen quartet in 1983 on their soil.Ian Chappell would also niggle great paceman particularly the Calypsos while Sandeep Patil attacked the likes of Lille in Australia in 1980-81 with the ferocity of a lion.At their best even Clive Lloyd and Alvin Kalicharan were class exponents of the hook shot as well as Roy Fredrick and Gary Sobers.The last 4 named were coincidentally all left-handers.

  • jaya on September 29, 2013, 19:07 GMT

    I appriciate the perfect description of the hook shot vs the bouncer and the excitement it raises to the veiwer.I have exactly seen the description by the authur of the reflexive hook off the eyebrows of a genuine pace bowler.It was a test match Eng Vs WI.It was Ian Botham vs the pace battery of the WI in the 1984(Marshall,Holding,Garner,Baptise).Botham hooking ball after ball some of the shots were so late that the ball missing his forehead by few inches.It was a breath taking innings by Botham .It was like a brave act by a soldier at the war front,it did not look like a game.I fail to recall the exact test match of the series played in England .in 1984.i t was a 5-0 victory for WI, with Botham scoring 81 in 2nd innings of 2nd test and 54 in the 2nd innings of the 5th test.It must be one of these 2 innings of Botham.A word of praise for Alan Lamb who was the only England batsman to score 2 100's in that series.

  • Mailes on September 29, 2013, 16:40 GMT

    Roy Fredricks Was a fearless hooker,probably the best ever

  • Dummy4 on September 29, 2013, 5:42 GMT

    Ricky, Lara and InzamamulHaq in this current era have been the greatest players of short pitch bowling !!!

  • Dummy4 on September 29, 2013, 0:55 GMT

    Samir forgot Sobers. Who can forget what he did to Lillee in his prime when hitting that majestic double at Melbourne ( ? ) Also, Viv was in a class apart even amongst the rest of the fearless hookers as he sometimes hooked on the FRONT FOOT.

  • Dummy4 on September 28, 2013, 10:26 GMT

    In this list, Samir has forgotten to add Ricky ponting. But some times it (hook shot) may ruin your career. Mohinder Amarnath's ( of course his father Lala Amarnath was also a hooker) penchant for hook shot also proved to be a death knell for him. In the 1983-94 series at home against West Indies, the Pace battery of Malcolm Marshall, Andy Robers and others tested his vulnerability of Mohinder and he fell prey to each time when he hooked. And his top score in that series was just 1 run and he was dropped for the rest of the series and of course he came back and played for another 4 years curbing his natural instinct of hooking.

  • Sarthak on September 28, 2013, 6:10 GMT

    Cover drive the most elegant, hook the most courageous & straight drive the most masterly.

  • Android on September 28, 2013, 3:32 GMT

    Usually Sachin prefers to duck a bouncer but when he hooks he hooks it best.Sir Viv,Ponting,Lara and all great pullers simply demonstrated a personna of them when they hooked;a personna of dominance,autority,intimation.When Sachin hooks,it looks like a demonstration of his expertise:perfectly balanced and filled with every minute pre-requisites.His hooks are the most beautiful.