IPL’s sloggers still no match for Test cricket’s stylish ‘old’ men

2010-03-24 00:00

THIS year’s IPL has given the classy batsmen an opportunity to shine and has put paid to the theory that only sloggers come off in this format.

The dominance of Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis in the competition so far has silenced those cri­tics who feel that the IPL is not for the “old” men of cricket.

While the IPL has succeeded in entertaining and exciting us, it has also bamboozled some of us when it comes to defining great batsmen. We have been easily awed by young batsmen who have slogged and come off. We’ve been dazzled by strike rates and less impressed by averages as we’ve joined the hungry fans baying for sixes and boundaries. The fact that West Indian Keiron Pollard, with an ODI average of just 17 but a strike rate of 130, secured himself a whopping contract of $750 000 to play for the Mumbai Indians is testament to this.

Yet it has taken just three seasons of the IPL for the elite cricketers to come to the fore. Kallis and Tendulkar, who were not brought up on 20-over cricket, have settled ­into this format and are asserting their dominance. Their success this year is simply an extension of their solid techniques and class in the 20/20 game.

As the IPL has unfolded, it has revealed not only the emergence of the classical batsmen, but also the limitations of the sloggers. There are a string of 20/20 specialists with intimidating bats (the Mongoose being the most recent heavyweight) who need good, flat pitches and innocuous bowling to prosper. As soon as the pitches do a bit or the spinners come on, their shot selection has been found wanting.

Kallis and Tendulkar, with years of experience behind them, have employed completely different tactics. In contrast to the sloggers’ hit-and-miss approach, these talented batsmen place the ball and hit to targets. They generally don’t take the boundary fielders on unless the ball is in a perfect position and they know they can clear him for six. Like lightweight boxers (perhaps middleweight in Kallis’s case), they move their feet expertly, transferring their weight back and forth, and use their hands to place the ball. The 20/20 specialists’ movement is restricted to the planting of their foot outside the line. This allows them to clear their hips and swing the bat through at maximum pace. There is much freedom playing with this nothing-to-lose approach, and these cricketers know that if they pepper the boundary and clobber a few sixes, their job is done. The responsibility for winning still falls to the senior players, it seems.

With the lucrative contracts and celebrity status on offer for players, the IPL has changed the face of limited overs cricket forever. With cricket evolving and responding to the needs of its ever-increasing fan base, I find the fact that Kallis and Tendulkar have excelled in the IPL reassuring. It shows that legendary Test cricketers will succeed in any form of the game and that the ultimate gauge of a cricketer’s ability remains in the lap of Test cricket, at least for now.

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