Recently MY Kasim and Javed A Khan discussed whether batting has become easier in international cricket. There are numerous arguments to say that it in fact has. Mitchell Johnson, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh are examples of bowlers who have recently demonstrated they can bat ably. Has batting become easier?
It is now common for batting sides to score over 300 runs in an ODI innings and over 400 runs in a day in Tests. There are various reasons why this is happening:
1) Short boundaries: the ICC and the boards of cricket nations have realised
that aggressive batting pulls crowds. Since commercialism has taken priority, boundaries are being shortened so that there are more fours and sixes
2) Restrictions on bowlers- A full toss above waist height is a no ball, a bowler gets a warning if he bowles 2 deliveries above shoulder height and he can be suspended from bowling by the umpire if he consistently bowls short pitched deliveries. This means that a bowler is restricted from bowling too attackingly, which leads to batsmen feeling more safe and confident
3) The emergence of T20 cricket- this has surely helped batsmen develop the aggressive psyche and dominate bowlers. The focus is on hitting and hitting hard and clean.
4) Flat pitches- Pitches are getting flatter worldwide. Flat pitches do not assist pace bowlers as much. There is less swing and seam and consequently, batsmen can play bowling with more ease.
5) Protective gear: Arm pads, crotch pads, chest pads- batsmen of today have more protection against genuine fast bowlers and accordingly can play more fearlessly.
6) Regulation of bowling actions: It was easy for bowlers to get away with suspect bowling actions in the past. Nowadays, a bowler is only allowed to bend his arm to a certain limit so as not to exercise an unfair advantage over a batsman.
The overarching factor, which acts as an umbrella for all the above factors, is that explosive batting is pulling the crowds, especially in the Subcontinent which has become the centre of the cricket world. In the current era of globalisation and commercialism, the focus is to do whatever it takes to make profit. Hence, the game of cricket is being tailored to achieve this objective.
However, to look at this discussion from a different angle, there are also arguments to say batting is as difficult as it was 15 or 25 years ago, or that is has in fact become more difficult:
1) The “pressure” factor- In this age of information technology and media, cricketers become superstars overnight. Players are treated as commercial commodities. This means that one crucial error in one crucial situation can potentially ruin a batsman’s career. There has been a substantial increase in matches that involve “crunch situations” where batsmen batting in the 2nd innings have to plan ahead, take calculated risks and often play against their natural games. This has made batting in certain situations, extremely demanding (although it is accepted that this pressure factor also applies to bowlers).
2) Depth in bowling: Decades ago, deliveries like the “doosra”, “teesra”, “carrom-ball” etc where unheard of. We often discuss batsmen inventing new shots like paddle-sweeps, but hardly anyone mentions new deliveries that have been
invented to flummox batsmen. Related to this is the concept of reverse swing. In the 1980’s only a few bowlers like Sarfraz Nawaz attempted reverse swing; nowadays. almost every fast bowler is able to reverse swing the ball to some degree or the other. Reverse swing has taken the careers of players like Simon Jones of England (who was instrumental in getting Australian wickets in the famous Ashes series which England won) and Zaheer Khan, to another level.
3) Ability, fitness and stamina of bowlers: It is now possible for 90mph bowlers to bowl in excess of 10 overs in a single spell. In the olden days, this could not be achieved because bowlers were not as fit, or fast. In the past, clocking 90mph was considered a rarity; nowadays, it seems every third bowler is an express pace bowler.
4) Ability, fitness and stamina of batsmen: Similar to the argument above, batsmen are also more fit these days. Fitness is linked to ability, so it may be a safe bet to say that the Pontings and the Smiths of today are more able batsmen than the Huttons or Sutcliffes of yesterday. The type of training received by Ponting and Smith is much more advanced than the type that would have been received by past legends. These days batsmen are trained how to play different kinds of deliveries on different kinds of pitches in different climates, all around the globe. So this argument is that batting has not necessarily become any easier, but that batsmen are of a much superior calibre.
5) Fielding standards: Only 15 years ago one could only expect perhaps Jonty Rhodes to dive and take a stunner. Nowadays, good fielding skills is a requirement for cricketers who want to play at the international level. It is common these days for expert hitters like Afridi or Dhoni to time the shot well, but only to find an athletic fielder diving and pulling off an impossible catch near the boundary rope. This was seen much less in the times of batsmen like Miandad, Gavaskar or Gooch. This has undoubtedly made batting much more difficult as batsmen have to be extremely cautious where they are hitting the ball, and having clean hitting prowess or good timing skills must be accompanied by excellent placement too.
So there are arguments for both sides, those who say batting has become easier and those who argue that times have changed, but batting is still the same as it was. As cricket is becoming a batsman’s game with shortened boundaries and flat pitches, Test cricket is being affected adversely. The interest in Test cricket is dwindling as batting sides are easily scoring over 500 runs in an innings. Since it is becoming difficult to get batsmen out in Test cricket, we are seeing plenty of draws. Now it will be interesting to see when the ICC and cricket boards take action regarding this, because the fans have hinted strongly that they want to see concrete results in Test cricket, not draws. And then we might see ourselves in the same situation as 15 years ago, when pitches were more bowling friendly and produced more convincing results.