Cricket or more accurately, batting, has become a lot more in-your-face as the two rising stars of Indian cricket Prithvi Shaw and Rishabh Pant exhibited so brilliantly on the second day of the final Test against West Indies.
In fact their approach to batting was different from even that of older contemporaries Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, let alone golden oldies like Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar or even coach Ravi Shastri.
In this it would be no exaggeration to state that batting in the T20 era has become a lot more dominant as emerging batsmen strive to stamp their authority on bowlers far more emphatically than batsmen of an earlier era. In short, Shaw and Pant are epitome of what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of attitude easily reflected in the emerging talents.
Successful batsmen of the past were a lot more subtle in their approach. They had a culture handed down through the ages and went around thriving and perfecting it. They would choose the bowler who troubled them the least and go around trying to make them look impressive. This manoeuvre would come in many forms, like nodding appreciatively at bowler's length ball or overtly defending to make it look that he was very difficult to get away. They would thus play themselves in but continue to ensure that they did not hammer him out of the attack. They’d milk only a couple of runs in his over even as they sized up the pitch and rest of the bowlers. Often rival captains brought back the ‘chosen’ bowler when the batsman approached his century in the mistaken belief that somehow he was the bugbear.
But T20 cricket did not have time for such sneaky tactics. A batsman had to be on the lookout for runs from the start. It did not matter who the bowler was; a batsman’s job was to whack him out of the park. If he could not do it, he had to get out and leave the strong arm methods to other batsmen.
It is this culture that Shaw and Pant have imported into Test cricket. They will gleefully blast a lesser bowler as soon as he starts operating. They are not bothered about making the bowler look good. They see his wares as an opportunity to smash quick runs and do so brazenly.
They care little for traditional niceties like start of an innings, new ball or close of play, etc. Pant does not even bother when there are deep fielders placed at long-on or long-off. He simply launches into his airy shots in the firm belief that his shots will clear the fielders and the ropes.
Non-strikers like Rahane continuously advice cautions while old school commentators like Sanjay Manjrekar are aghast at the temerity of this approach. Their years of cricketing upbringing, culture and tradition cannot absorb these new school batting methods.
Yet it is this sort of fearless strokeplay that is the essence of modern batting. It not only keeps the tempo up but enhances the chance of result in Test after Test.
Saturday morning provided an excellent study in contrasts. While Shaw drove on the up and swatted deliveries from outside off stump with impunity, his partner KL Rahul looked ponderous, timid and bewildered. So much so that in their opening partnership of 61 runs from 52 balls, Rahul was a mere 4 runs from 25 balls.
Of course Shaw’s confidence levels were sky-high after that century in the previous Test. But he still needed to go out there and make a statement. And how superbly he did it!
It was not just his driving, cutting or pulling that stood out; it was the manner in which he sought to dominate the attack that made his batting so compelling.
Make no mistake. The West Indies in this Test under Jason Holder looked a far more competitive side in both batting and bowling. But Shaw and Pant rocked them only because they did not allow them to set the pace of play.
Shaw’s 70 came off a mere 53 deliveries before he drove uppishly to be caught at covers. In contrast, Pujara’s 10 runs took 41 deliveries. Even skipper Virat Kohli (45 in 73 balls) looked slow in comparison. But he is the sort who paces his innings and deals more in singles and twos at the start of his innings.
Likewise Pant made Rahane look pedestrian when they got together at 162 for four. Pant’s contribution in the first 50 runs of the stand was 34 to Rahane’s 14. Rahane’s individual 50 was a toil over 122 deliveries while Pant cruised to his in a mere 67 deliveries.
Their unbroken 146-run stand for the fifth wicket has put India in the driving seat for now. They are just three runs behind the West Indies’ first innings total of 311. But more than that, the highlight of the day was the generational shift in batting attitudes. Shaw and Pant bring up the attitude of the future. Those who have seen it on the day would endorse that it works.