October 6, 2013

Sixes to begin with

Today's tendency to hit sixes right from the start of the innings, and reliance on upper-body strength, is a radical change from coaching values of flexibility and getting your eye in

MS Dhoni walked in to bat after the loss of the third wicket on the first ball of the 15th over in a Champions League Twenty20 match between his team, Chennai Super Kings, and Sun Risers Hyderabad. Suresh Raina at the other end was set and going berserk. Thirty-five balls were remaining, so one expected Dhoni to start his innings in his trademark style - which is to rotate strike initially and then own it towards the end, if he lasted.

Cricketing wisdom dictates that a new batsman must take some time to get used to the pace and bounce of the pitch before cutting loose. But Dhoni stunned everyone by hitting the second ball he faced into the stands over the bowler's head. JP Duminy bowled rather flat and from around the stumps to prevent him from stepping down the track or freeing the arms, but Dhoni cleared his front leg a bit to create room and then used his brute strength to hit a six without stepping out.

This sort of attacking play has more or less become synonymous with modern cricketers, who defy the age-old belief that one must buy time before unleashing the big shots. Not too long ago, even batsmen who came in during the slog overs of ODIs took a few balls to get their feet moving before hitting the long ball. But players today don't shy away from revealing their intent from ball one. T20 cricket has forced them to stretch the conventional envelope; the lack of time at one's disposal calls for immediate action.

Most batsmen have devised ways to hit the ground running. Some shadow practise by using two bats, doubled up, just before they walk in, so that when they use only the one they are supposed to, it feels a lot lighter and easier to manoeuvre. Also, batsmen generally identify their go-to areas and when the ball is in the slot for those, they don't mind taking the aerial route.

Dhoni's second-ball six stood out also for the spectacular show of its brute strength, which too has become an integral part of modern batting. Duminy didn't give Dhoni enough flight, but it mattered little, for Dhoni didn't need to come down the track to clear the ropes.

While we talk about Dhoni's solid base, heavy bat and great down-swing, they would not amount to much if he didn't have the power he does. T20 cricket has forced spinners to lower their trajectory, so as to not allow batsmen to use their feet and gain momentum. But players like Dhoni aren't bothered too much, because they have the strength to hit 100-metre sixes - occasionally getting under yorkers to do so - without coming down the track at all.

Dhoni went on to hit seven more sixes in his 19-ball knock, five of them in one Thisara Perera over, and most of them illustrated the importance of strength in today's game.

Changing times have also changed the way batsmen approach training. In my formative years, the gym was completely out of bounds for us, for our old-school coaches valued nimbleness and feared working out would make us stiff. The focus, at least in India, was always on flexibility, and that helps explain our batsmen's supple wrists, and perhaps their affinity for on-side play.

But these days, training methods have changed radically. A lot of focus is on first acquiring strength and then using it at the point of impact. That's why we see fewer modern batsmen rely on using their feet to gain momentum. The belief now is that arms and torso provide the necessary power needed to hit a six.

In tennis parlance, cricket has moved from being a serve-and-volley game to one dominated by players who station themselves on the baseline and hit powerful ground strokes.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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  • dummy4fb on October 6, 2013, 12:30 GMT

    Akash, It was a T20 match and when Dhoni came at the middle everything was in his favor, there were only 3 or so wicket down, 35 ball to go, then dew advantage for the second batting team and he had 2-3 big hitters in his dug out.What else you would expect with any batsman of Dhoni caliber? As the last result shows his hard hitting proved pivotal as his team won only 10 or so margin. Dhoni knew that they need at least 200 to win that match. Dhoni is one of the most brutal and strongly build batsman of modern era but some time he takes more time to get settle especially in Indian T20 matches when he was not playing for his IPL team. Some of these matches India lost because of him. In T20 there are only 120 balls to play, if you are middle order batsman then you have to come set at the middle as the most of the match goes to the last over or even last ball .2 or 3 balls could decide the fortune of the match.Game is evolving as more and more technology is used in all aspect of game.

  • dummy4fb on October 6, 2013, 8:43 GMT

    The age old belief of getting your eye in was because pitches used to help bowlers in those days unlike now.

  • tickcric on October 6, 2013, 7:41 GMT

    In tennis both players get to hit the gym & have better racquets. In cricket batsmen get more and more powerful bats and bowlers get nothing but bad economy rates in return. Cricket is as much a game between two sides as it is between batting and bowling. But yes games change. So we can see different techniques and more emphasis on physical power than ever before. It's not a bad thing, if only bowlers also got an equally attractive deal.

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