A batting showcase where bowlers shine too

2011-02-02 00:00

CRICKET, like other sports, has been through many transitions on its journey from an amateur game to its present-day professionalism.

The T20 game has evolved in response to the demands of entertainment-hungry spectators. And so we’ve seen a shift in emphasis where batsmen have emerged as the new quarterbacks.

It’s the batsmen who are able to clear a boundary rope with ease and who are able to win games from virtually impossible positions who are the recipients of all the accolades and six-figure contracts.

In last month’s IPL auction it was the big hitters who cleaned up the big contracts in the multi-million dollar sell-off.

As a franchise owner it makes business sense to have as many batting heavyweights as possible in your line-up. They are the drawcards, the money-spinners and, after all, lucre is the lure of the professional game.

But in all the belting and blazing of T20 cricket, something of the art of batting is being lost. The focus of the new generation of power strikers is to reach or clear the boundary at every possible opportunity. What’s lacking is the ability, especially of less experienced cricketers, to rotate the strike and to be circumspect when looking for boundaries.

This point was illustrated clearly when South Africa lost to India at the Wanderers chasing down a modest total.

In my opinion the declining skill level of batsmen is a major casualty of the new era of limited overs cricket and its effects have filtered to all levels of the game.

Watching domestic cricket at the weekend confirms this fact as well as the concerning lack of bowling depth in South Africa.

The power and the striking ability of batsmen has increased immeasurably.

This is in part due to the design of the broad bats with massive sweet spots and the fact that pitches are more batting-friendly than ever.

To make it even tougher for bowlers and fielders, outfields are cut short and are lightning fast, and batting power plays and shortened boundaries all favour the big hitters.

In an era where wielders of the willow reign supreme and where batsmen put more store in their strike rates than the value of their wickets, who would want to be a limited overs bowler?

As batsmen have adapted to the abbreviated version of the game so bowlers need to add more variety and cunning to their bowling arsenals to be competitive and to also provide their own form of entertainment.

When Shane Warne and the likes of Waquar Younis and Wasim Akram were bowling, we were glued to our television sets because of their wicket-taking abilities and bowling mastery.

The World Cup on the subcontinent promises to be another batting showcase, but it will also provide a platform for classy bowlers to parade their talent.

The countries who are able to back up their powerful batting with bowling prowess will be the ones to prosper.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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