Mar 5, 2015

From openers to finishers - Jayasurya to Dhoni via Klusener

1996.. The Cricket World Cup. I was just a small restless boy then when my father introduced cricket watching to me. The first cricket matched I watched live on TV was a 1996 World Cup game. I still remember how my father narrated to me then as to how the game has changed a lot in the last decade and how power hitters at the top of the innings are revolutionising the game. Of course, Jayasurya and Kaluwitharana were playing against some team in that match, going after their famous mantra of 100 runs in 15 overs. That was the strategy that the Sri Lanka team executed with great success then, making full use of the field restrictions and lofted shots. My dad had grown up watching Gavaskar and it was blasphemy to him. But to me it was fun.

Sachin Tendulkar did the same. Mark Waugh did the same. Gary Kirsten did the same. Aamir Sohail did the same. Games were won or lost by how well the openers played and set up big scores. It was a World Cup of the openers - especially the Sri Lankan pair. It was a brilliant strategy of getting a jumpstart to the race before the opposition woke up fully to the game.

Two decades later.... as I continue to watch the game with the same passion now, how could I miss the change in the paradigm now! Cricket is now the game of the finishers. A finisher's role is as much a specialist's as that of an opener's. This World Cup of 2015 might very well be remembered for the finishers and may the team with the best finishers win. Who are the names that come to your mind?

Dhoni, AB devilliers, Maxwell, Corey Anderson, Angelo Mathews, Misbah Ul Haq - these are the men who are going to call the shots in this World Cup. It is all about finishing with a flourish now. 100 runs in the last 10 overs is the new mantra. And how has the game changed inch by inch from the push at the start to the finish!

In the 1999 World Cup, one man caught the imagination of everybody with the late flourish and I vividly remember when Lance Klusener took on Chaminda Vaas on a final over assault in a World Cup game in England. 20 odd runs in one over. Ridiculous! How could that be done?! 1999. He pioneered the trend of the 'finisher'.

2015. We are talking scores of 400+ and individual scores of 200+ now. Not in the flat pitches of the subcontinent. But, in the, well... 'flat' pitches of Australia and NewZealand. The game has become more and more favoured to the batsmen and sixers do not carry the halo around them as they had in 1996. In fact, with the bigger bats and powerful arms wielding them now, hitting sixes looks easier than placing boundaries. One need not even worry about placement and fielders while lofting it high and far with as much power as he has.

I would like to see one more interesting change to the game in the next decade. What if the scores are to be swapped for sixers and boundaries in future with the same logic? A wild heave over deep midwicket that lands in the second tier of the audience? Let that be scored 4 runs. A delightful cover drive that cuts through three fielders diving in to stop it from reaching the boundary? Give that the maximum runs - 6! Boundaries are more pleasing to watch and are more a test of skill than power to a batsman. 

Nevertheless, speaking of the shift from the power hitting at the start to the finish, openers have also redefined their roles now. With two new balls, openers are not going after racy starts. They are consolidating. They are playing to keep wickets in hand and give their finishers the platform. Many a times, they make use of the platforms themselves too. Think of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohil, Chris Gayle. They shift from a top order player to a murderous finisher almost effortlessly.

The performance of batsmen has improved drastically over the last years in cricket and it has been aided by rules and pitches too to some extent. It is the bowlers who have had to catch up. Some bowlers prefer the style of old - swing and pace. Dale Steyn and Mitchell Starc stand as examples of these two combined. There are others who master swing - Tim Southee's seven wicket haul in this World Cup against England for example and others who go by sheer pace - think of Mitchell Johnson's chin music. But in general, there are no masterly bowlers today in my opinion as there are batsmen.

In those days we had Ambrose, Warne, Mcgrath, Kumble, Murali, Wasim and Waqar - champion bowlers. No body dared to take them on. They had magic that can last for 60 deliveries. But today, even Steyn and Johnson, on a bad day, are reduced to mere mortals. Whereas the batsmen have flourished. There are greater deeds done with the bat now more than ever. Gayle, Kohli, deVilliers - these are people killing the bowlers with a smile. Dhoni, Maxwell, Misbah - these are people who play in their squads as specialist 'finishers'.

Seems like the performance of the bat has gone up like a hill and that with the ball has flattened a bit over the last decades. However, the side with the best finishers is expected to win this Cup in 2015. Let's see who has the last laugh.


(Images sourced from Google Search)

This post is a reply to Harsha Bhogle's call for his #BloggerDeamTeam through Blogmint. Let's see if I make it.