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Sanjay Manjrekar

Watch out for vintage batsmen

Now that these technically sound players have freed up their batting via Twenty20, we can expect some sizzling innings from them in the World Cup

Sanjay Manjrekar
Sanjay Manjrekar
Navjot Sidhu, an orthodox Test batsman, could adapt his technique with great success in one-dayers  •  Getty Images

Navjot Sidhu, an orthodox Test batsman, could adapt his technique with great success in one-dayers  •  Getty Images

The first time I realised, as an international batsman, that I needed a different technique for ODIs was when I saw Navjot Sidhu bat in Sharjah once. Sidhu, like me, was a traditional batsman who grew up being told to go back and across when the ball was short, and to come forward when it was full. Only bad balls were meant to be hit; the rest were to be respected and defended.
In that particular game in Sharjah, I was playing traditionally, leaving balls outside the off stump alone and defending the good ones. However, Sidhu was playing differently. I could see that he had made an adjustment to his basic technique: he was not moving his feet much, and he was hitting through the line. He was scoring freely and I wasn't.
In that era very few batsmen hit through the line. Now it's the norm. A few years later, while commentating alongside Aamer Sohail, I saw Virender Sehwag, still quite new to international cricket, deliver a lesson in how to convert good balls into hittable ones by not moving your feet much. It was a revelation. Sehwag, by not moving his feet much, was deliberately creating room to free his arms against balls that were pretty close to off stump. In the process he managed to treat with disdain a line that batsmen had been trained to believe was a good one.
I remember an observation the late cricket journalist Rajan Bala made about the two little masters of Indian cricket. He said Sachin Tendulkar had hit as many good balls for four in his five-year career (at that point) as Sunil Gavaskar probably had in his 17-odd years in the game. It is important to remember here that Gavaskar's era of batsmanship was different. Batsmanship then was built on the fundamentals of "defend the good balls and hit the bad balls". I was from the Gavaskar school of batting.
Today good balls are regularly hit for boundaries - and often with minimal movement of the feet. I think this is a smart change in approach, in keeping with changing times. There is no point having copybook technique in batting-friendly conditions when it's going to hamper your scoring rate. Green, seaming wickets are rare. Why build your game for those?
Looking at the evolution of ODI batting, it's worth starting with New Zealand's Martin Crowe, a batsman who was hugely admired by my generation. We could relate more to Crowe than to someone like Viv Richards, who seemed from a different planet. Crowe was a more classical batsman, who played proper cricket shots, but in one-dayers he switched to aggressive mode. He was one of the best one-day batsmen I have seen. In a 1992 World Cup match in Dunedin, I remember watching from square leg when he gave Kapil Dev a mock charge and disdainfully pulled the resulting short ball for a flat six over square leg. He made a great bowler look like a schoolboy. Very few could bat like Crowe did in one-dayers when in form. He was an attacking and dangerous one-day batsman but his methods were still quite traditional.
Next came the generation who shunned tradition and built their game on taking big risks. These were people like Sanath Jayasuriya, Mark Greatbatch and Romesh Kaluwitharana. They were successful while playing a high-risk game because they all had one gift - tremendous ball sense. Players of this sort understand ball behaviour better than most and are able to hit almost any kind of delivery as a result. That they did not put too much of a price on their wickets made them more dangerous.
When you talk of one-day batting, you can't leave out Tendulkar, the ultimate one-day run machine. When he was an opener in one-day cricket, his early innings were a bit like Jayasuriya's - both would go after the bowling from the start. Like Jayasuriya, he too did not set long-term goals: he looked to hit every ball for a four, if not six. Tendulkar, however, changed that approach soon and became more of an innings builder. Perhaps he had no choice because of the state of the team he played for. I can't forget some of the explosive Tendulkar innings I have watched from the other end in domestic cricket, when he played without any burden. It was, again, classical batsmanship adapted to attacking cricket - and further up the graph than Crowe managed in 1992. The range of shots Tendulkar produced when he batted in that fashion was staggering, to say the least.
There is no point having copybook technique in batting-friendly conditions when it's going to hamper your scoring rate. Green, seaming wickets are rare. Why build your game for those?
The Pakistani opener Saeed Anwar was another terrific batting talent in one-dayers. He too had a superb array of shots, which made him a real nightmare for new-ball bowlers. I have never seen wrists being used the way Anwar did to produce the big shots. He could casually flick a ball off his pads, 10 rows into the stands.
The new mindset shown at the top of the order by batsmen in the early 90s inspired openers like Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Herschelle Gibbs, all terrific players with great hitting skills.
Late in the 1990s or thereabouts, one-day cricket itself was crying out for a change. A one-day innings then typically went flat after the 15th over. This to me was not so much because of the change in field as it was about the approach to batting in one-day matches at the time. Ian Healy used to wonder why there was no more the same intensity in batting after 15 overs. The answer was quite simple really: because that is how it was done. Nobody knew better.
Enter batsmen like Andrew Symonds and Yuvraj Singh, who revived the middle overs somewhat by hitting sixes at times in games when ones and twos were acceptable. Such batsmen also helped less aggressive players like Rahul Dravid become effective one-day batsmen at No. 5 or 6. The Dravids and the Michael Bevans became masters of a different style of batting. They were experts at soaking up the pressure, but they also needed some assistance from a big hitter at the other end to help their cause. Many teams started finding good use for Dravid-like batsmen down the order.
Inzamam-ul-Haq of Pakistan is another player who was quite brilliant when it came to handling pressure in a one-day match. Where he was different from the Dravids and Bevans was that he could up the ante very well himself. He truly was one of the greats of one-day batting. Sadly his running between the wickets always comes in the way of him being in the ODI hall of fame.
As if ODI batting was not evolving enough, along came Twenty20 cricket, wiping out whatever little fear or inhibition was left in the minds of batsmen. Thanks to Twenty20 we are now seeing shots played in 50-overs cricket that one only fantasised about 10 years ago. Twenty20 has also taught the more accomplished Test batsmen to not take failures to heart. So much so that these batsmen, with their minds freed, are now making more of an impact in 50-overs cricket than before.
Some of the bigger beneficiaries have been vintage batsmen like Jacques Kallis, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. These batsmen, because of Twenty20, are not afraid to cross the boundaries they had laid down for themselves for a number of years. In this World Cup I expect this breed to make a mark like they never have before.
This is the first World Cup where we will see the complete influence of Twenty20 on the tournament. That will be something to look out for.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here