December 22, 2014

Original hits

A look at some of cricket's most memorable strokes - and their makers

Not a mirror image: Kevin Pietersen unleashes his jaw-dropping switch hit © Getty Images

Lara's cover drive
There's something about left-handers that can make them appear more graceful than their right-handed counterparts. Brian Lara's cover drive had a dreamy quality, starting with that flourishing pick-up, and a backlift that started somewhere above his head, like in those posed pictures of Ranji jumping out to drive. But Lara was for real. The bat came down, and the ball went scorching away through the covers. Garry Sobers, another sublime southpaw, also played this shot (and most others) to perfection.

Gilchrist's pull
There have been several great pullers and hookers over the years: I'll always remember Alvin Kallicharran - not just helmetless but capless - smashing Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson to the leg-side boundary at The Oval during the first World Cup in 1975. But arguably the most consistent puller of recent years was Adam Gilchrist, who recently gave viewers a glimpse of what it was like, during the Lord's bicentenary match in 2014. Shaun Tait, not exactly a slouch, unleashed a short one that zeroed in on the camera atop the 42-year-old batsman's helmet - but just before it destroyed this expensive piece of equipment, Gilchrist clunked the ball away.

Bradman's push to leg
I'm not old enough to have seen Don Bradman bat, but luckily some precious film survives. He's clearly a master of all the shots, but arguably the most telling of them was his forward press, bat and pad locked together, to clip the ball somewhere between square leg and midwicket. He would often do this early on - he liked to get off the mark first ball if possible - before unrolling the rest of the repertoire. The action in those old black-and-white films sometimes looks a little dated, but the Don's defence is very modern indeed.

Tendulkar's flick
Sachin Tendulkar's batting was, like the man himself, small but perfectly formed. The shot I will remember was the leg-side flick off a ball bouncing to about waist height: Tendulkar would dismiss the ball towards long leg with a wristy flounce that seemed to turn the bat almost back to front. He rarely missed. Virender Sehwag was pretty good at this shot too.

Flintoff's straight drive
Few have hit the ball so hard and so straight as Andrew Flintoff at his best. A couple of monster sixes back over Brett Lee's head helped set up the miracle of Edgbaston 2005, and the year before that, Flintoff offered his dad a catch in the upper tier of one of the stands on the same ground. But the one that sticks in my mind was a searing flat six off Makhaya Ntini at The Oval in 2003, which seemed to be still on the way up when it smashed into the Bedser Stand next to the pavilion.

Dilshan's scoop
The "Dilscoop", the over-the-shoulder ramp shot named after the audacious Sri Lankan opener Tillakaratne Dilshan, is one of cricket's most thrilling strokes - and one of the most dangerous, since a miscalculation might mean the ball thudding into the batsman's helmet rather than the boundary. That's why some of Dilshan's team-mates apparently called it the Starfish shot, "because you wouldn't play it if you had a brain". Even though his name is now attached to it, the shot wasn't really invented by Dilshan. Zimbabwe's Dougie Marillier produced it a couple of times against a gobsmacked Glenn McGrath in an one-dayer in Perth in February 2001, while about 80 years before that the Australian wicketkeeper Hanson Carter used something that sounds rather similar - a "shovel" shot, supposedly perfected during his time as a Sydney gravedigger.

Take cover: Brian Lara's high backlift gave the ball extra mileage © Getty Images

Boycott's back-foot force
He's not exactly remembered for flashy strokeplay, but Geoff Boycott was another master craftsman. In my mind's eye he'll usually be drawing back to a short ball, getting up on his toes and, hands high, forcing the ball out past point without much fuss or much risk. Later on, Mike Atherton played the shot with similar efficiency, and I'm pretty sure I noticed Joe Root getting in on this particular act earlier this year.

Greg Chappell's on-drive
The on-drive is one of the hardest shots to play well: mere mortals have trouble keeping the ball down. But Greg Chappell rarely had that problem. He would snap out of that military-upright stance, shimmy forward, then the back foot would snap to the front one as he cuffed the ball towards (and usually past) mid-on. All along the ground.

Viv Richards's flick to midwicket
Viv Richards' driving was brutal - remember Bob Willis' Test career coming to a close in 1984, as Viv smashed him down the ground - but perhaps his signature shot was a souped-up version of Bradman's: a big stride forward to a decent ball, then the bat whipped across and powered the ball towards midwicket. There were several, against handy bowlers like Ian Botham and Derek Pringle, in that amazing 189 not out in a one-day international at Old Trafford in 1984. I suppose he must occasionally have missed it, but I don't remember very many.

KP's switch hit
Love him or hate him, Kevin Pietersen made (and is still making) quite a splash. The one-legged "flamingo" on-drive was an early trademark, but he made more headlines later with his switch hit, changing from a right-hander to a leftie and smacking the ball away behind him. The stroke even provoked discussion at Lord's about its legality; thankfully the lawmakers recognised the excitement it generated.

Gayle's off- drive
An opener with two Test triple-centuries, and a one-day phenomenon: I'm not sure Chris Gayle has really received the recognition he deserves, except perhaps from terrified T20 trundlers. This might be because he's so laidback he doesn't usually bother with footwork, which gets him into trouble if the ball is moving around. But when Gayle's eye is in, the bat scythes through and the ball zips through the covers before anyone moves, as at The Oval in 2004, when most of his six fours in a single Matthew Hoggard over hurtled through the off side.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2014. Ask Steven is now on Facebook

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