Chandrahas Choudhury picks 11 batsmen who knew exactly how to reply to a bouncer aimed at the throat.
Many batsmen have favoured the hook shot, but for few was it so complete an expression of their nature as it was with Viv Richards. The swaggering stride to the wicket, the imperious air at the crease, the head protected only by a cap - all of Richards's game was a dare to the bowlers. On one occasion he missed a hook off the Australian Rodney Hogg and took a blow to the head; after receiving medical attention, he took guard again and hooked the next ball for six. He even hooked some of his own fast men: some of his most famous duels came in the English county circuit, where he came up against one of the meanest pacemen ever, his fellow West Indian Andy Roberts.
Chappell once declared: "At the crease my attitude towards bowlers has been that if I'm playing well enough, three bouncers an over should be worth twelve runs to me." Early in his career Chappell was bested by the hostility of England's John Snow and thereafter resolved to answer short-pitched bowling in a more aggressive fashion. After long hours of practice on concrete wickets, he emerged as a thrilling dispatcher of the bouncer. As with all batsmen who employ the stroke regularly, he got out to it from time to time. Once, after a bad run with the stroke while he was captain, Chappell received a stack of letters advising him to stop hooking. He went out to bat still in two minds, was hit by Snow, decided to go for everything and made 56, with "about 40 from hooks".
A fine attacking player who spent most of his career under the shadow of Don Bradman (himself a venomous hooker), McCabe nevertheless constructed two or three of Test cricket's most legendary innings. Perhaps his greatest effort was at Sydney against England in the Bodyline series of 1932. He came to the crease when three wickets had fallen and, with Harold Larwood and Bill Voce bowling at him with seven leg-side fielders - five in close to catch anything the batsman fended off and two back for the hook - McCabe proceeded to attack every ball. Often he mistimed his hooks or missed altogether, but he also sent away enough from the middle of the bat to make 187 in four hours of batting. Later he would say: "It was really an impulsive, senseless innings, a gamble that should not have been made but came off against all the odds."
Small-built and quick on his feet, Weekes was the most attacking of the three W's, and the scourge of bowlers on hard, true wickets. His most famous shot was the square-cut, which he sometimes played even to balls pitching on leg stump, but he was also an enthusiastic exponent of the hook, which he hit so fiercely that tales abound of his strokes rebounding some way into the playing field after hitting the fence. Weekes's methods were less successful, though, on the larger grounds of Australia, where the hook shot often led to his downfall.
For most batsmen, the hook shot is pure aggression, a fierce and swift strike; for Majid Khan, who possessed some of the most sublime skills of his era, it was almost a tease. He got inside the line and cuffed bouncers away to leg without appearing remotely perturbed, and this, and the bush hat that he wore at the crease, often stirred up bowlers who fancied their bouncers their most lethal weapons. When Pakistan toured Australia in 1976-77, Dennis Lillee vowed to knock off Majid's hat, but try as he might he could not hit his target. In the third Test, with Pakistan needing a small total to win, Majid came out, played a couple of hooks off Lillee, and having seen Pakistan home, sought Lillee out and made him a present of his hat.
Amarnath's name immediately calls up the mood and temper of Test cricket in the late seventies and early eighties, of ferocious fast bowlers and of brave struggles against short-pitched bowling. A rare Indian batsman partial to the hook, Amarnath was struck on the head numerous times by the short-pitched ball. In the season of 1982-83 he worked out a new, open stance to help him play the short ball better, and proceeded to make over a thousand runs against the pace barrage of Pakistan and West Indies. At Barbados he hooked three sixes in his first-innings 91, was struck on the mouth by Malcolm Marshall early in his second innings, washed out his bloodied shirt himself, and returned to make 80.
An attacking opener in the great West Indian tradition, Fredericks survives in the public imagination in the form of two or three memories. One is of his demonic 169 at Perth in 1975 against Lillee and Jeff Thomson at their fastest, hooking, pulling and slashing with such savagery that he brought up his hundred off just 71 balls. The second is of that moment early in the World Cup final of 1975 against Australia: in comes Lillee to bowl. It's a bouncer; Fredericks swivels and strikes, the ball flies into the stands for six, but Fredericks is dismayed - he has overbalanced and trodden on his stumps and is out!
In 1974 the teenaged Ian Botham, playing in a one-day match for Somerset against Hampshire, aimed a hook at Roberts, missed, was hit in the face and lost a couple of teeth. But this experience, which might have dissuaded many other young batsmen from attacking short-pitched bowling, had little effect on Botham, who continued to relish the challenge of a duel with a fast bowler throughout his career. Though not as good a player of the hook as his Somerset team-mate Richards, Botham shared with Richards the desire to demoralise the bowler by meeting fire with fire. Never did his methods come off more memorably that in the amazing Headingley Test of 1981, in which he hooked several Lillee bumpers off his eyebrows on the way to 149, and turned a lost cause into a narrow victory for England.
Hilditch was one of the 'happy hookers', a misleading term that actually refers to a batsman who plays the stroke compulsively, and who therefore often leaves the team management very unhappy indeed. Hilditch made a promising beginning to his career, but began to look very foolish during the 1985 Ashes series in England when Botham kept bouncing him, and he kept hooking and holing out in the deep. Axed from the side, he returned later for a game against New Zealand and was out hooking, caught Chatfield bowled Hadlee both times, and never played for Australia again.
Very few batsmen in Test match history have hit the ball with such power as Greenidge. He once explained: "As an opener I am on the receiving end of a hard, red missile being bowled at me at something like 90-100 miles an hour ... I hit the ball, therefore, as a form of revenge." Greenidge had a high degree of control on the hook, and had a distinctive style of playing it, with the left leg often rising to the level of his hips as he swivelled. Of current batsmen, Michael Vaughan does a decent imitation of the Greenidge hook.
Possessing a game to match his name, Hookes's raw aggression and scorching strokeplay helped him quickly make his name as a young player in Australian first-class cricket. Invited to play World Series Cricket, Hookes had his jaw shattered by a bouncer from Roberts, and for a while his skills went into decline, only to blossom again in a second phase. His ability was most memorably showcased by his hooking of Bob Willis, Norman Cowans and Botham on the way to two half-centuries at the MCG in his comeback series in 1982.
Chandrahas Choudhury is a staff writer for Wisden Asia Cricket magazine.
This article was first published in the September issue of Wisden Asia Cricket.
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