Rahul Dravid believes batsmen in T20 cricket have benefitted from having the "freedom to develop" and the willingness of team managements be "more accepting of failure" than in any other format.
Speaking on the second episode of ESPNcricinfo Talking Cricket to be aired on Friday night on SONY ESPN, the former India captain said batsmen feel increasingly secure about playing risky shots such as reverse sweeps and paddle sweeps because a dismissal caused by such shot selection isn't frowned upon. He also highlighted how this freedom to "practice and experiment" with shots has made batsmen get much better at executing them in match situations.
"We are more accepting of failure, I think, in T20 cricket than we are in any other form of the game," Dravid said. "When a batsman takes risks and plays a paddle sweep or a reverse sweep or all the kinds of shots that they play, you're more likely to view it with a certain degree of acceptance than you would, say, in a Test match or in one-day cricket. This has given batsmen freedom to try and experiment with these things more and they're getting better and better at it."
Citing the example of AB de Villiers, who has been part of all the nine IPL seasons so far, Dravid said that while he was a batsman of "rare gifts", de Villiers too had gained from the freedom to experiment.
"He's also had so many opportunities to fail, to learn from them and to keep refining his batting technique for T20," Dravid said. "Apart from the IPL, he gets other opportunities to practice and experiment with that, and if you keep trying something and you keep failing and learning from it, you are going to get better at it, and that's what happened with batting techniques. People have been allowed to take a few more risks. They keep doing that over and over again and they get better and better at it."
Dravid, who has been involved with the IPL as player, captain and team mentor over the last nine years, believes that while skill sets have improved dramatically over this time, the batsmen are "slightly ahead" of bowlers on the curve. Though he insists the bowlers are "catching up", they are restricted by the amount of time they can spend on honing their skills in practice as compared to batsmen.
"I think the very nature of bowling is such that you are limited physically in the amount you can do," he said. "It's not that you can go on. You hear a batsman batting for an hour, two hours. They can set up bowling machines to mimic certain kinds of balls and they can go on practising. You can't obviously go on bowling for two hours, two-and-a-half hours, three hours every day because you're going to get injured or you're going to break down at some time. So, the opportunities for bowlers to work on their skills is limited physically, by the physical demands and the nature of the job that they are doing. Whereas batsmen, I think, have a little bit of a leeway because they are able to push themselves physically and practice a lot more."
Having observed the strides made by batsmen, in particular power hitters, Dravid also had a word of caution for the administrators as T20 cricket continues to grow. In his view, it is crucial to maintain the "balance between bat and ball" to ensure that the format isn't reduced to a big-hitting contest.
"I see that as one of the major challenges of T20 cricket," he said. "What we don't want is every score to become a 200, 200-plus score, where it's always about power-hitting skills. We want to bring the skills of cricket. We want them on show even in a T20 game. We want somebody to, even if it's for two overs, you want somebody to negotiate a difficult spell, you want to see someone's ability against the turning ball and how he negotiates that and how he's still able to score at seven-eight runs an over against a good spinner on a track that assists the spinner as well. So, I think we need that balance. I think otherwise you just might put up bowling machines and see who hits it further."
Watch ESPNcricinfo Talking Cricket with Rahul Dravid at 9.30 pm (IST) on July 15 (Friday) on SONY ESPN