The Draw (photo courtesy: Felix on the Bat by Nicholas Felix) The under-leg (photo courtesy: The Jubilee Book of Cricket by KS Ranjitsinhji) Victor Trumper plays possibly an early variant © Getty Images
From left: The Draw (courtesy: Felix on the Bat by Nicholas Felix); the under-leg (courtesy: The Jubilee Book of Cricket by KS Ranjitsinhji); Victor Trumper plays possibly an early variant © Getty Images

Cricket evolves. The fittest survive. Invention and innovation have been, as a rule, part of the sport since its inception. WG Grace played both forward and backward. Bernard Bosanquet popularised the googly. George Hirst pioneered the ‘swerve’ (swing, basically). Sarfraz Nawaz is often credited with the invention of reverse-swing. Saqlain Mushtaq brought the doosra.

The 21st century saw strokeplay reach new levels: Douglas Marillier revolutionised the scoop (it was always there, but Marillier popularised it); Kevin Pietersen brought the switch-hit to the table (that was there, too); Tillakaratne Dilshan got his own version of the scoop and got it named after him; Soumya Sarkar brought the periscope shot; and journalists have not yet been able to name the entire repertoire of AB de Villiers.

And then, there is a new one: Natalie Sciver, the superstar who has taken the Women’s World Cup by storm, has come up with an astonishing effort to counter the yorker. Taking advantage of her wide stance, she simply moves her front leg and places it between her legs, somewhere towards square-leg.

The world of cricket has obviously gone gaga over this, and they have a reason to. The yorker could be countered by a scoop (that too, if you were de Villiers), but what sorcery was this? They instantly named it Natmeg.

What are its salient features? First, the ball has to be a yorker. Secondly, the weight will — given her wide stance — be on the back leg. Thirdly, the front leg has to be raised out of the way of the ball. And finally, the ball has to pass between the legs, somewhere in the direction of square-leg.

Astute writers obviously did not get carried away. Vithushan Ehantharajah, for example, knew there was nothing new about this. He made it evident in The Guardian: “Sciver is not the first to play the shot — more boringly known as ‘The Draw’ — and she will not be the last.”

‘The Draw’

But what was ‘The Draw’ anyway? Let us sample this from The Memorial Biography of W. G. Grace by Lord Harris, Lord Hawke, and Home Gordon: “W. G. could hit all round, he used every known stroke except the draw which had become all but obsolete when he commenced first-class cricket; and he introduced what was then a novel stroke … his mastery of this stroke was so great that he could place the ball with great success clear of short leg and even of two short legs.”

While the direction of the stroke fits (it was obviously far ahead of the times), it is not clear how The Draw was played. Jon Hotten, on the other hand, described it differently in ESPNCricinfo: “Grace saw the draw shot, played by raising the front leg and hitting the ball underneath it.” That sounds more like Natmeg.

But the history of The Draw goes way beyond that. Gerald Brodribb, in Next Man In, wrote this in 1952: “Another stroke which went out of fashion a very long time ago was ‘the draw’, which was a back-shot diverted to fine leg between the body and the wicket — which sounds very difficult to perform.”

Years before that, in 1886, here is how Rev. James Pycroft mentioned a curious history behind the evolution of The Draw in Oxford Memories: a Retrospect After Fifty Years, Vol. 2: “When Lord Frederic [sic] Beauclerk first saw leggings he never imagined they should be allowed in a match — ‘so unfair to the bowler.’ This want of leggings necessitated the ‘draw’ between legs and wicket, a very useful hit still, and only unsafe because men know not how to make it.”

Pycroft has his own version of The Draw as well, in The Cricket Tutor: “No man can play underhand bowling well who cannot Draw. And with round-arm bowling, for a left-handed player — I speak feelingly — the Draw is quite indispensable, because so many balls, for which he must prepare as if straight, work away to the leg.” While this is not very revealing, it definitely tells us that The Draw was pretty much in vogue.

Let us go further back in time, to 1845, to a polymath and an outstanding cricketer. Nicholas Felix was one of the greatest batsmen of the 1830s and 1840s; he gave cricket the Catapulta (a bowling machine) and India-rubber batting gloves; and wrote Felix on the Bat, one of the greatest instruction manuals of the sport.

Here is perhaps the most definitive description of the stroke: “In playing the Draw, therefore, you have only to adopt the attitude of the Home-block, and, as your body recedes, turn the face of the bat inwards, so as to describe an angle of 45° with the parallelism of the wicket. Take care not to turn the bat more than this, else will the blow be slight, and not out of the reach of a good wicket-keeper, who will often shift his position from the wicket and take the ‘chance’.”

Note: Before you ask, the Home-block was possibly the back-foot defensive stroke.

Canine references

However, there was another shot, this time by another legend. Let me first quote Jack Fingleton, author of, among other books, Immortal Victor Trumper: “He [Trumper] had a fascinating stroke against a fast yorker. He lifted his back foot, jabbed down on the ball with his bat at an angle and it streaked away to the square-leg boundary. Somewhat naturally, they [the South African tourists in Australia, 1910-11] called it the dog stroke.”

That almost fits the bill — but for the fact that Trumper raised his back-foot. Fingleton’s book even has a photograph of it.

In his piece Australia’s Soaring Eagle in Wisden, Carl Bridge wrote: “To this day, Australian batsmen fail, fail, and fail again to emulate Trumper’s famed dog shot — let the ball pass your front pad, jam the bat closed bat face down, and squirt the ball through the gap left by your raised back leg. Another, slightly easier version raising the front leg. Try it some time.”

Ah, that seems more like it, does it not?

Let us, however, check another biographer of Trumper — just like Fingleton, another Test cricketer, the author of Trumper, The Illustrated Biography.

Sample this from Ashley Mallett in ESPNCricinfo: “The first ball from [Syd] Barnes was a yorker, but Trumper dismissed it in a flash, playing what he called the ‘dog shot’. As the ball careered towards leg stump, having moved from off to leg in the manner of a late reverse swinger, Trumper merely lifted his front leg, swivelled neatly on his back leg, meeting the ball on the half volley and dismissing it from his presence to the backward-square fence.”

Similarly, Monty Noble, from The Game’s the Thing: “The bat would meet the ball at half-volley, and, with a flick of the wrist at the moment of contact, it would be forced along the ground at great pace, forward of short-leg into the country … No assistance was given here by the pace of the ball from the bowler, as there is in making the leg glance; it was pure wrist work, and wonderful timing.”

Noble went ahead to call it “Victor’s best, most effective, and most beautiful stroke.” There was no mention of which foot he used as fulcrum, though.

EW Kann of Newcastle Sun had a conversation with Alf Jones, former Sheffield Shield and Test umpire. According to Jones, “I was umpiring a match between Paddington and Glebe, and the late ‘Tibby’ Cotter, then in his fast bowling prime, opened up for Glebe, to Trumper. The first ball Cotter sent whizzing down was a yorker on the middle stump. Trumper’s bat descended, his left leg was raised, and away scudded the ball to the leg boundary. “Cotter was aghast. ‘Where can a blighter bowl to this fellow?’ he exclaimed.”

Kann himself tried to explain: “Some people are confused about the foot Trumper raised in making the ‘dog shot’. This confusion, no doubt, is due to another extraordinary stroke made by Trumper off a yorker, in which he lifted his right foot. When a yorker on the leg stump was pitched up to Trumper he would pivot on the left leg, and raising the right foot, glance the ball to fine leg.”

Which one was the dog shot? Did Trumper pivot on the front foot or the back foot? It is not very clear. Perhaps it was used to describe both.

What is known, however, is that Trumper could place the yorker off front foot towards square-leg over a century before it was christened Natmeg. It might not have been the dog shot, but it was definitely there.

There is, however, more history to this. A letter to Dayboro Times and Moreton Mail reveals: “’I saw Sid Callaway do it on the Sydney Cricket Ground some years before Tamper played first class cricket I was at school at the time (it would be about 1895), with one of Callaway’s nephews, and clearly remember him telling me his uncle called it the ‘dog-stroke’.

As per the newspaper, “during the Trumper-Bradman articles amongst the correspondence received were some clippings of a most interesting nature”. This was one of them.

But there was more!

Grace. Check. Trumper. Check. Why do we spare KS Ranjitsinhji? This is from The Jubilee Book of Cricket: “When the ball is well pitched up on the legside, either a half-volley or just short of one, the stroke should be aimed in the direction of square-leg. If it is properly made, the ball should travel very near to the umpire. In making this stroke the left foot should be thrown out in the direction of the ball, which may be hit either on the half-volley or on the rise.”

The name of the stroke is not exactly clear, but Ranji uses a picture of Billy Murdoch in his book playing the ‘under-leg’, which seems to be the same thing. Do refer to the image above.

Are we wrong, then?

Of course, cricketers have been credited with shots they have not invented. Consider the reverse-sweep, a shot typically assigned to Mushtaq Mohammad. It was definitely played by KS Duleepsinhji in the 1920s.

About three decades before, Duleep Tim O’Brien attempted something that might have been a reverse-sweep or a switch-hit. William Yardley certainly attempted at least two switch-hits in the 1870s.

Then there is the leg-glance, unanimously assigned to Ranji. However, CB Fry, Ranji’s great friend (and partner-in-crime when it came to obliterating entire bowling attacks), wrote in 1939 that WW Read, an exponent of the stroke, had shown Ranji how to play it.

Was the world wrong by assigning the leg-glance to Ranji or the reverse-sweep to Mushtaq or the switch-hit to Pietersen? Yes and no: there might have been earlier exponents, but there is no doubt that these men had made them mainstream the way Bosanquet popularised the googly.

Trumper’s dog shot was obviously a show-stealer. Unfortunately, the name and the legacy both got lost somewhere in the course of time. As mentioned above, we will never know whether WG’s Draw Shot was a similar exercise.

What we can do, however, is to back Natalie Sciver to bring the long-lost shot back.