Cricket continues to be dominated with the bat in the recent history, barring a few exceptions. The first T20 match between India and Sri Lanka might be one of those exceptions, where the green Pune pitch opened its heart out for the bowlers. The ball was swinging both ways, batsman were unsure of the bounce and a wicket went down every time a shot was miscued. But we all know that was a one-off event in India.
Though I did specifically mention the Indian context, the pitches and conditions around the world are no longer favourable for the bowlers. It seems to be becoming the norm that pitches become flatter day by day. One day matches are not considered complete without a blistering innings from an in-form batsman. Do bowlers exist in this one-sided game? I'm not sure.
Take a closer look at the last World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand. Around 463 sixes were hit during the tournament, compared to 258 sixes that were hit in 2011 World Cup! That is an increase of more than 79% within a time-slot of just a single World Cup. No one doubts the capability of modern batsmen, from AB De Villiers to Brendon McCullum, but how is it fair when batsmen are mishitting balls which cross the boundary rope instead of being caught in the deep?
Various reasons can be attributed to the rise of batsmen in the modern version of the game. The pitch isn’t the only reason; have you seen the bats used by the likes of David Warner, Rohit Sharma or Chris Gayle? Devilish hammers threatening to tear the ball into pieces. Further, the shrinking of the boundaries and fielding restrictions do bowlers no favours.
And when the game is turning out to be so one-sided, how can the bowlers be considered anything better than bowling machines? A bowler comes in, mechanically throws the ball and waits for it to be dispatched, thinking all the way through that he gets lucky this time. Isn't it the right time to think for these hardworking bowlers? Why should their roles be reduced to such an extent when idolizing them as role models become a tough job?
There are people who also believe that high-scoring matches are more interesting to watch. Even the ICC has a tendency to make rules which favour the batsman. However, I tend to disagree. I followed the last Cricket World Cup more closely than I had ever done before. Two matches attracted my attention more than any other. The first was, of course, the semi-final between New Zealand and South Africa, and the second match was between Australia and New Zealand at Eden Park during the group stages.
I had actually bunked my college classes that day to watch New Zealand-Australia. I was half sitting, half sleeping that morning, watching the match on my laptop. A friend was accompanying me. But then, after seeing a dismal Australian performance, 151 all out, he got up and left, saying, "Another one sided match! Can't watch this low scoring game anymore." I wasn't moved.
The match turned out to be a thriller. Mitchell Starc was on fire that day. NZ required 7 to win with 3 wickets in hand. I was joined by quite a few friends. Everyone had started choosing their favourites.
In comes Starc to Milne, and OUT! The ball goes through and stumps are rattled. Next ball: Southee facing Starc. He comes in too quick, too quick at 150 kmph and rattles the stumps again! Everyone was in awe. Everyone was enjoying themselves, and talking about how lucky they are to witness this.
Unfortunately, Starc's heroics were undone with a six down the ground by Kane Williamson. He became a national hero instantly. But cricket was the real winner. So were the bowlers. New Zealand won the low scoring affair by 1 wicket.
This wasn't a one-off affair. There have been numerous instances where low-scoring matches have turned out to be thrillers. Surely cricket, limited overs and long form, has many more dimensions to it than just being a one-sided slogging affair. How can we compromise on the lovely complexities of cricket? Bowling should be an equally important part of cricket as batting. Shouldn’t bowlers be on a level playing field with batsmen?
After the T20 match between India and Sri Lanka in Pune, Indian limited overs captain MS Dhoni blamed the green pitch for the team's loss against a second string Sri Lankan side. Taking his comments into consideration, the Ranchi pitch for the next match was converted into a dusty track. Clearly, Dhoni didn't notice that the pitch on which both the teams played was the same. A better performance by Sri Lanka's bowling line up won them the match.
What he didn't notice was how unfair his comments were towards the bowlers, who are provided with an unequal playing field in this "Batsmen vs Bowlers" game.