The evolution of technique

Different strokes for different blokes

The cricketing lexicon ranges far and wide as batsmen invent shots for shorter and shorter forms of the game, while bowlers come up with methods of tackling them

Ivo Tennant

March 29, 2011

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Tillakaratne Dilshan shapes up to play his favourite scoop shot, Sri Lanka v Netherlands, World Cup warm-up match, SSC, Colombo, February 12, 2011
Tillakaratne Dilshan's innovative style has made him the scourge of bowlers the world over © AFP
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Who is not enchanted by a mystery spinner? A bosie, a doosra, a Dilscoop? The cricketing lexicon ranges far and wide, and never more so than today as batsmen invent shots for shorter and shorter forms of the game, while bowlers come up with methods of stymieing their dominance.

Not everyone likes to depart from the orthodox methods of coaching as laid down by MCC's manual. Peter May might have approved of combating Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine with excessive pad play, but he thought little of the reverse sweep. Richie Benaud regarded Jack Iverson, who held the ball between a bent middle finger and his thumb as a spinner who knew little about bowling, yet this freakish style made Iverson, at times, almost unplayable.

Throughout cricketing history, batsmen have been synonymous with shots -- the Ranjitsinhji leg glance and the Colin Cowdrey cover-drive, for example -- but Tillakaratne Dilshan is believed to be the first to have had a stroke named after him: the aforementioned "Dilscoop". To execute this, he drops to one knee and uses the pace on the ball to flick it directly over his head behind the wicketkeeper. Such improvisation, of course, would have been unthinkable before helmets came into the game. Brian Close might have taken the ball on his chest on purpose from the quickest bowlers of the day but even he might have thought twice about scooping it over his teeth and bald pate.

Cowdrey was also a master of the "paddle", whereby the ball was placed almost directly behind the wicketkeeper, but with a conventional, semi-sweep shot. He did not live to pass comment on the "Dilscoop", as coined by the Sri Lankan enthusiast Mahendra Mapagunaratne, but Ian Chappell, who is still very much with us, said he has never seen a batsman play a shot so straight over the wicketkeeper's head as Dilshan does. Hence it could be considered misleading simply to call the Dilscoop a scoop, as there are multiple scoops in the same way that there are multiple drives. Rob Turner, the former Somerset wicketkeeper, attempted to perfect the flick over his head long before Dilshan's version came to prominence.

The nearest equivalent to naming a shot or a ball after a cricketer is the "bosie", after BJT Bosanquet more than 100 years ago, when he spun the ball from off to leg. That, though, has alternative names - the googly in England or the wrong'un in Australia. Otherwise, innovations have been christened after descriptions. Kevin Pietersen's one-legged flick through the leg side became known as the "flamingo shot", although he caused more of a stir when he mastered the reverse pulled six (or "switch hit"), while Saqlain Mushtaq's ball spinning from leg to off became known as the "doosra" - literally translating from Urdu as "the other one". Over-spin is imparted and the bowler, Saeed Ajmal for example, gains greater bounce as a result.

Like Saqlain, Iverson was basically an offspinner, but one who bowled a topspinner and legbreak without a discernible change of action. He adapted his bowling in New Guinea during World War II, using a table tennis ball and holding it between his bent middle finger and thumb. In the 1960s, John Gleeson delivered the ball in that same way. Few batsmen could read him. He evidently loved the craftiness inherent in his delivery: when he retired from first-class cricket, he took up lawn bowls, applying himself as assiduously as he did to mystery spinning.

What next in this era of premeditated hitting? Ambidextrous batsmen and bowlers, perhaps. Vijay Manjrekar could bat left-handed, and Sunil Gavaskar once opted to do so in a first-class match in India. As bats become more powerful - witness the Mongoose model that Marcus Trescothick, who is not much fun to bowl at anyway, will be using this season - and pitches remain covered, so the bowler must rethink his armoury, as he once had to do when underarm and lob bowling proved not to be ideal options.

Mark Alleyne, MCC's head coach, does not encourage unorthodoxy unless young batsmen have mastered the basics. "They must keep their heads still and have a good hitting base," he said. "Players who try these new shots will not be a success otherwise. Batsmen like Dilshan and Pietersen practise their options. They know bowlers are going to bowl in certain areas and by striking the ball differently manage to free up orthodox fielding positions. I think we will see batsmen hitting the ball with a bit more curve on their shots to make life more difficult for fielders.

"I like bowlers to have sound, repeatable actions before trying something innovative. Ambidextrous bowling is still a way off but I believe there is scope for more creativity, for fast or medium-fast bowlers to bowl spin. I am surprised more cricketers have not tried to bowl in different, Sobers-like styles. But I like batsmen and bowlers to try different methods, otherwise they will not know how good or bad they are at them."

This is the tenth and final article in a series on cricket's innovations, sponsored by SAAB.

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