One of the distinctive features of cricket is that it offers something for everybody. It has never exclusively been the domain of the athletic and the red-blooded, with the stereotype of the strapping fast bowler and the muscular batsman sitting comfortably alongside images of a diminutive, wristy artist or a ponderous genius. However, the rapid professionalism of the game in the past decade has threatened to restrict this wonderful heterogeneity.
Never have I found homogenisation more evident than during the ongoing World Cup. The game seems to have set up a manufacturing line, where the assembly of cricketers, who fit the modern stereotype are rolled off. AB de Villiers perhaps represents the apex of the modern conception of a sportsman - versatile, supremely talented and professional.
Watching the likes of Aaron Finch, AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle, and Brendon McCullum club bowlers is awe-inspiring but presents an unhealthy picture. The premium placed on muscular strength makes me wonder if there is a place for the 'touch-player' in limited overs cricket these days. Would a Saeed Anwar or Damien Martyn be as successful if they were around today?
It can be argued that there is a place for the touch player at the top of the order, keeping in view of the presence of field restrictions, two new balls and the need for a modicum of caution. But what about the middle and lower-middle order? Surely, that seems to be the domain of the power-hitters.
Amid all these musings, Ajinkya Rahane steps in. His 60-ball 79 against South Africa last week, was a breath of fresh air. He scored runs at a brisk clip by sticking to placement, timing and intelligent manipulation of the field. His lofted hits off Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel were only extensions of the straight drive. His knock proved that the ability to accelerate is one that every modern batsman needs to possess but how one accelerates is ultimately dependent on one's own propensity.
As an amateur school and club cricketer in the UAE, blessed with not even an ounce of Rahane's talent, I was often affected by doubts as to whether my touch-play made me too defensive.
A healthy global game requires diverse playing styles. Tennis has been weakened by the dearth of good exponents of the serve and volley and cricket will also be poorer without touch players. At a time when timing and placement has gone out of fashion, the continued success of Rahane, Hashim Amla and Mahela Jayawardene comes as a timely reminder that there is no right way to bat.
Their success serves as an inspiration to all the budding touch-players from the maidans of Mumbai to the manicured clubs of England. I grew up idolising Saeed Anwar and Mark Waugh and I am convinced that this unconsciously influenced my style of batting.
Thus, the game itself is by far richer for the presence of touch-players. This is especially true in the eyes of romantics, who see a world of difference between thumping a wide half volley through the covers and coaxing it with a mere twirl of the blade.