It is the big-hitting batsman that is often the star in cricket’s briefest format; the muscular, trained-to-the-minute player who has broken hitting down to a science; the player who deals in sixes and disdains singles; the batting marvel capable of hitting the ball far and often, clearing the boundary as a matter of course.
Names like Chris Gayle, Andre Russell, and Glenn Maxwell immediately come to mind. They are, indeed, highly sought after and highly valued players. They have, on occasions, bludgeoned teams into the dust and stomped all over them, winning games almost on their own. Russell, for example, was once dubbed Superman due to his electric fielding and rapid bowling, but mostly because of his brutal ball-striking and an ability to bring his team to victory when all seems lost.
And yet, as valuable as big-hitters like Russel and Kieron Pollard are, the T20 game also has a place for batsmen who are purists first. Time and again we have seen the worth of the batsman whose game is built on proper technique and a solid foundation; the batsman who doesn’t always try to clear the boundary, but who often seeks to run the twos and find the gaps.
Wednesday’s game between the Chennai Super Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad brought that lesson to the fore. Set a target of 172 by Hyderabad, the Super Kings romped home by seven wickets with nine balls to spare.
What was most instructive about the run chase was the manner in which the Super Kings gathered the required runs. 172 is not a total to be scoffed at and so the runs needed to come at a fair clip, a rate of almost 8.6 runs per over to be exact. Yet only one six was struck for the duration of the entire Super Kings’ innings.
In setting the total, the Hyderabad batsmen struck five sixes, two of which were hit by captain David Warner, though he attempted a few more. The Australian opener is often a highly belligerent player who, in the process of scoring his 50th IPL half-century on Wednesday, made his 10,000th T20 runs. But he was not at his fluent best, plodding along at a scoring rate of 103.63. If anything, the left-hander appeared to lack form and was too intent on bludgeoning the ball.
Now, let us juxtapose Warne’s batting to that of Super King’s openers Ruturaj Gaikwad and Faf du Plessis. Gaikwad and du Plessis added 129 before they were parted at the end of the 13th over. This means they sailed along at a fairly rapid 9.92 runs per over. This they achieved, not by muscle and brutal intent but by employing the well-known batting virtues of precision and timing. For the most part, they snubbed the aerial route, choosing instead to stroke the ball and pick the gaps.
Picking the gaps was probably the most impressive part of their display. The geometrical exactness of their strokeplay was of a standard rarely seen in this version of the game. Sometimes it was as if they measured exactly how far to one fielder’s left they needed to play the ball so that it passed just out of reach of another fielder’s right. Take, for instance, a delivery du Plessis received from Siddarth Kaul in the fifth over of the innings. The batsman gave himself room and threaded it between extra-cover and mid-off. A foot or so to the left or right and it would have been intercepted by one of the fielders.
Gaikwad was the first to go. His 75, which earned him the man-of-the-match award was made at an impressive 170.45 strike rate and contained 12 fours and not a single hit for six. One TV commentator remarked that Gaikwad “keeps it so orthodox and yet manages to score at a very, very good clip.”
Du Plessis exited the stage with the score at 148/3. His 56 came off 38 deliveries, with six fours and the only six of the Super Kings’ innings. With five overs still to go and only 24 runs to get, only a drastic collapse could have prevented victory.
At the post-match interview, du Plessis offered this: “I think 170 (Hyderabad actually made 171) was a touch under what they needed to go. I think around 190 would have been a good score.” One critique of Hyderabad’s innings was that the number of balls eaten up by Warner and Manish Pandey, to a lesser extent, reduced the number of balls available to New Zealand batting master Kane Williamson.
Batting at four, but entering the fray with only 17 balls to go, Williamson managed a blistering 26 off only 10 deliveries. He, not unlike du Plessis and Gaikwad, is a precise stroke maker rather than a ball beater. And the ease with which he scored with the limited opportunity he got suggests that his side would have been better served had he joined the skirmish earlier. Because what this game showed is that sometimes the high-quality stroke maker can be even more effective than the muscular big hitter.
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