It was a breathtaking sight, when the final four balls of the ICC World T20 2016 were bludgeoned for four scintillating sixes by West Indian Carlos Brathwaite which eventually helped his team clinch the trophy. An end of this kind to an ICC event had not been witnessed in recent memory. It was savage and brutal.
Exciting though the sixes were, they weren’t exactly pleasing to the eyes. It was sheer brute force on display that night. In fact, this term – brute force – is being used quite regularly in cricketing parlance these days.
Even the Indian Premiere League (IPL) which followed the World T20 and many other similar tournaments are completely filled with a ridiculous amount of monstrous sixes and smashing fours with hardly any genuine focus on regal cricketing shots.
As the sport is getting more fast-paced and competitive by the day, batsmen’s focus seems to be entirely on smashing the ball out of the park and somehow accumulating runs. Stroking the ball gracefully is an almost extinct sight these days. Batting is an art, a refined delicacy.
But sadly, it is being relegated only to pyrotechnics these days. Slowly, steadily and surely, aesthetic strokeplay – a trait which was once truly cherished – seems to be fading out of cricket in the present times.
When Aesthetic Strokeplay Ruled
People who have grown up idolizing the T20 era will find it hard to believe that the game wasn’t always about slam-bang. Batsmen enjoyed caressing the ball making for a delectable sight. One could just sit back, relax and relish the elegant strokeplay on offer. As the ball would be stroked and glanced through the covers or square leg, one’s heart would flutter with an ‘ooh’ or an ‘ah’ in delight.
Through the annals of cricket history, including the great Ranji himself, there have been countless batsmen who were especially known for their aesthetic strokeplay. There was David Gower from England who took ‘poetry in motion’ to another level altogether with his nonchalant strokes.
Gundappa Viswanath from India with his supple wrists and nimble footwork was truly an artist with the bat. Then there was Sir Frank Worrell of West Indies, who unlike the West Indian batsmen of this era, was all about grace and subtlety in his strokeplay. And how can one forget Victor Trumper from Australia whose suppleness and elegance was simply beautiful to watch?
There were plenty of batsmen in the past couple of decades too who continued the art of aesthetic strokeplay. Mark Waugh, Saeed Anwar, Mahela Jayawardene, VVS Laxman and Aravinda D’Silva, among a host of others from the 90s and a little further on, were that crop of batsmen who exuded a lot of finesse and charm in their batting. But as we are rampaging ahead in a new era, only a handful of such batsmen remain.
How Things Have Changed
Things have changed dramatically in the last few years. Batsmen are street smart and know what exactly works. Today, it is all about run-scoring; no matter where they come from. So the batsmen come in and start attempting reverse sweeps, ‘dilscoops’, switch hits, reverse paddles and what not, right from the word go.
The truth is that batsmen today hardly have any patience, especially for grace-laden strokes. And even more than that, grace isn’t needed today. They know that the crowd would go delirious with their ginormous sixes and crunching fours. Who, then, will invest time in honing the art of elegant strokeplay?
Is There Any Hope?
Despite the sheer madness in display on the cricket field these days, where batsmen just keep bludgeoning the ball to all parts of the ground with nonchalance, there might still be a sliver of hope for those seeking some finesse.
The likes of Hashim Amla and Ajinkya Rahane continue to shine with their charmingly graceful batting amid all the pandemonium around them. It is a rare sight to see the ball being caressed rather than smashed, but it is pleasing nonetheless. But can only a handful of batsmen carry the art of aesthetic strokeplay forward? That is a difficult question to answer. For the answer may well distress the purists.
Cricket is evolving at a breakneck speed nowadays. There is hardly any breather for the audience as they are bombarded with one tournament after the other. Truckloads of runs are scored, and most matches go right down to the wire.
In these palpable nail-biting moments, some amount of grace would be a welcome relief; like a balm on a singed soul or the petrichor emanating from the dry earth after the season’s first rain. Just for once we wish that we could get some heart-pleasing moments coming from the bat rather than the endless heart-stopping ones.
Cricket, perhaps, is much more exciting these days than the days of the yore. But sometimes even the excitement gets monotonous. Sometimes it all gets a bit too much. And it is in times like these we wish we could just sit back, relax and relish some delectable strokeplay. In a way that our hearts could flutter with an ‘ooh’ or an ‘ah’ in delight again.