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Effective is the new Pretty

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Number_one_Best_Greatest_cricketTechnically correct batsmen are nice to have in a cricket team. They have the gift of scoring off good balls. They are beautiful to watch. They draw crowds in. But does class and elegance alone win T20 games? Ah well, not necessarily.

Take someone like an Ajinkya Rahane, for example. He’s been clocking half-centuries at will for the MS Dhoni-led Rising Pune Supergiants - having scored four 50+ scores in 8 games. While the consistency is applaudable, it isn’t exactly being delivered at a rate of knots. A strike rate of 125.56 doesn’t match industry standards. Furthermore, only 2 of the 8 surfaces Pune have played on can really be described as tough or challenging.

The good old Dhoni tactics don’t work anymore. The idea of laying a solid platform at the top and then cashing-on at the death is dated. Yes, it does help you score those 320s in 50-overs cricket and 160s in 20-overs cricket, but at the end of the day it doesn’t consistently win you games. India’s 1-4 hammering in the ODI series against Australia earlier this year illustrates the point.

Middle overs require urgency. While this urgency previously translated to constant rotation of strike, now it is about pouncing on boundary-balls and even catching the bowlers off-guard with innovation.

 

While Rahane bats in more-or-less the same tempo throughout his innings, a Rohit or a Kohli is capable of switching gears as the overs unfold. They have more productive shots and a refined fence-finding ability, at all times of an innings. This is not to implicate that Rahane’s style is incorrect, but that the present-day cricket requires something more than just calculated scoring.

With spice-less roads becoming a norm, modern-day top-order batting has hit an all-new level. A hitter-hitter combo is increasingly the name of the game as opposed to a hitter-artist/artist-artist combo. Although Rahane’s (previously uninjured) opening partner, Faf du Plessis, cannot be spoken of in the same breath as Brendon McCullum or Chris Gayle, but he does have the required muscle to go with the finesse he already possesses.

But while a Faf-Rahane type combination works well on testing decks, it struggles to hold fort on a true pitch especially when setting a total. Rahane’s latest opening partner, Saurabh Tiwary, compiled a 45-ball 57 vs Mumbai Indians on a batting beauty in Pune. While the innings is appreciable, in itself, but in context of the game, it was match-losing.

This is not to say that setting a target in this T20 age is anywhere close to being easy. Even the masterful Virat Kohli of all men has faultered twice on this front while batting first. As he himself acknowledged, his 52 off 44 vs KKR and his 80 off 63 vs RPS were below par and perhaps cost his side that extra 10-15 run cushion.

With totals, previous conceived inconquerable, being chased with incredible ease, teams batting first need dynamic batting throughout the course of 120 balls – a code that Chennai Super Kings broke by slotting McCullum and Smith at the top (Gujarat Lions are benifitting from the same). England is reaping the rewards of allowing Hales and Roy the license to go all out. The World Champions West Indies have Gayle and Charles.

A batter who bats through is a plus. But a batter who bats through and bats fast is a requirement.

Over the years, chasing totals has been the tougher proposition. Of late, however, it is the other way round. This calls for more urgency batting first - especially right at the top. Cricket, in general, and batting, in particular, is evolving at a breakneck pace and the players, fortunately or unfortunately, have to keep pace.



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