By S. Giridhar and V J Raghunath
Biggest hit at Lords – “The only known instance of a batsman hitting a ball over the present pavilion at Lord’s occurred when A. E. Trott appearing for MCC against Australia on July 31, August 1, 2, 1899, drove M.A. Noble so far and high that the ball struck a chimney pot and fell behind the building.” - Wisden Cricketers’ Almanac 2010
Ever since the IPL began, we have often been asked to write about at least some aspect of this slam - biff – whoosh version of the game. There is such a crescendo of noise over the number of sixes hit in the IPL that we decided to dig into the big hitting exploits of great test players of olden days and place big hitting in its proper perspective.
We grew up, learning and ‘reading’ our cricket at a time when test and first class cricket was all there was; ODIs and T20 were not even in anyone’s imagination. We read about the exploits of great attacking batsmen like Trumper, Jessop, Macartney, Sinclair and our own CK Nayudu with awe and admiration. Those were days when strike rate was not described as runs per balls faced, rather, in runs per minutes at the crease.
Cricket has kept changing so much that the best way to appreciate it is to look at each era independently. Comparing players from different eras is as unfair to them as to the changing game itself. Rules have changed dramatically - what was LBW once is no more LBW and vice versa; uncovered pitches those days made batting a very special skill while today we have well-manicured turf; protective gear was minimal in those days.
Why, even just thirty years ago, a tail-ender like Chandrasekhar faced Thomson and Roberts bareheaded. If Trumper or Ranji came to a cricket ground today, they would think Martians are batting. A bat was a slim piece of ‘English Willow’ with a thin handle and a couple of rubber sleeves to absorb the shock of ball hitting against bat. The blade required ‘seasoning’; it was regularly and lovingly massaged with linseed oil and preciously maintained to last many seasons. The bat’s edge was truly an edge and if the batsman did not ‘middle’ the ball it would only travel some yards. Today’s bats are made using the finest technology; wood is highly compressed, handles are provided numerous sleeves and the bat has a lethal solid bow to it. The bat’s edge is no longer an edge but actually provides the third side to the bat. So the mishit flies 65 yards and the bowler, who induced that false shot, clutches his head at the unfairness of it all.
Given all this, we examined big hitting through the lens of strike rate, the percentage of runs scored through sixes and the number of sixes and see how things have panned out over the years. We restricted ourselves to batsmen with an average of over 30 and at least 1,000 test runs (we lowered the bar on batting average for the early era batsmen). No surprises at all that modern batsmen have the highest strike rates, the highest number of sixes and the highest percentage of runs through sixes. We put these numbers as a quick snap shot but having done that we will get back to reminiscing about the exploits of the oldies whose figures may not compare with the modern greats but who were in their times and circumstances perhaps as devastating as the modern big hitters.
Clearly modern cricket is in a league of its own. The sixes and fours and strike rates in test cricket have zoomed. The number of runs scored per day (or per over) and the much higher percentage of decisive test matches is something that is to be greatly welcomed.
Why were so few sixes hit in the olden days? The answer is provided by two very compelling reasons. One is that in the first thirty three years of test cricket, the ball had to be literally hit out of the ground to be counted as a six. Many of modern cricket’s sixes would have only counted for a four in those days. The second reason is that before the advent of one day cricket, the distance from the pitch to the boundary ropes was much higher and in many of the established cricket grounds around the world, the distance would be 80 metres or more. For the IPL we have much shorter boundaries so that, commentators can frequently scream “DLF Maximum”.