Virender Sehwag (L) and Chris Gayle © Getty Images
Virender Sehwag (L) and Chris Gayle © Getty Images

 

By Akash Kaware

 

On two successive days last week, we saw two highly entertaining and violent innings from two of the most destructive batsmen in the game. The scorecards might show that Delhi Daredevils beat the Deccan Chargers and Royal Challengers Bangalore hammered Kings XI Punjab, but in reality, Virender Sehwag and Chris Gayle single-handedly floored their opponents. These two have been destroying attacks and making bowlers look for alternative careers for a long time, but the other common feature of their batsmanship is their disregard for convention. Their success, not just in Twenty20 but across more testing formats of the game, makes one wonder whether technique is over-rated.

 

There is an age-old cricket story of a coach admonishing his student who had just crashed the ball to the cover boundary without moving his feet. “Look where your feet is, son!” yelled the coach.

 

The boy coolly replied, “Yeah coach, but look where the ball is!”

 

I have been hearing the story since long before Sehwag and Gayle started making their mark on the international scene, but it could very well have been about them.

 

Then both batsmen started their playing days, they might have started by shredding the MCC coaching manual. While coaches around the world tell young kids to get behind the line of the ball, these two marauders get away from the line of the ball to create room outside off-stump where none exists. Coaches are at pains to make their wards to learn to get to the pitch of the ball, but these blokes smoke balls to the boundary without bothering with trifles like footwork.

 

Of course, majority of the pitches they play on these days and the quality of the attacks they plunder enable them to get away with some chinks in their techniques. But both Sehwag and Gayle have succeeded in enough variety of conditions to prove that they are much more than flat-track bullies.

 

Sehwag’s very first Test century, on debut no less, came on a Bloemfontein green top against a pace attack comprising Shaun Pollock, Nantie Hayward, Makhaya Ntini, Lance Klusener and Jacques Kallis. He has racked up many more centuries, but among those that came in difficult conditions include a 106 in his first series as opener at Nottingham, an astonishing 195 on the first day of the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne in 2003, a restrained (by his standards) 151 at Adelaide in 2008 to save the game and possibly his best innings, an unbeaten 201 out of a team total of 329 against Sri Lanka at Galle, when the rest of the Indian batting line-up had no answer to the wiles of Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis. Even in one-dayers, his centuries include two magnificent tons on prodigiously seaming tracks of New Zealand in 2002-03 when the rest of the batsmen could hardly put bat to ball. Not to mention, he is one of the only four batsmen in the history of the game to make two triple centuries in Tests (in addition to a 293).

 

Another member of two-triple-tons club is Chris Gayle. While he has had his share of flat pitch merry-making too, there have been plenty of jaw-dropping innings in places as varied as Cape Town, Centurion, The Oval, Adelaide, Perth and Galle against quality attacks and demanding conditions. In fact, very often, these two make it look like they are playing on a flat pitch, and the moment they get out, it seems the pitches start playing tricks on other batsmen!

 

In fact, if an Indian coach is a stickler for technique, one net session would probably be enough to make him tear his hair out. In one net, he would see Sehwag peppering the off-side with minimal foot movement. The coach would shake his head and move on to the next net, where he might see VVS Laxman hit balls meant to go to the cover boundary to the midwicket boundary. But a look at the highest individual scores by Indians in Test cricket would tell you that these two own the top four entries in that table!

 

Ditto with a Sri Lankan bowling coach. Until recently, the likes of Lasith Malinga, Murali and Mendis were all part of the team together. Consider this, a fast bowler with an action which is the very opposite of the high-arm bowling action most coaches recommend, an off-spinner who uses his wrist instead of finger and a slow bowler who defies any classification. All these guys haven’t done too badly in international cricket, have they? So why is it that while savouring the feats of these mavericks, we also prize technique so highly?

 

One reason is that, technique is the walking stick of an ageing cricketer, and synonymous with longevity in many cases. Naturally gifted players like Sehwag and Gayle are in the prime of their careers right now, but it will be interesting to see if they will retain the hand-eye co-ordination that enables them to bat the way they do as age sneaks up on them. Viv Richards, the batsman Sehwag resembles the most in approach if not in consistency, was a shadow of his former self towards the end of his career. Sachin Tendulkar, while certainly being more gifted that any batsman mentioned here, has probably lasted this long at the international level because his technique is as close to perfection as it can possibly get. It will be interesting to see if Sehwag and Gayle can be the same players when they are closer to 40 rather than 30.

 

And secondly, technique is important simply because these characters, successful as they are, are freaks of nature! As much each of us would want to hit every other ball to the boundary like Sehwag, hit out-of-the-ground sixes like Gayle, bowl unplayable yorkers like Malinga and turn the ball on glass like Murali, mortals like you and me would be better off learning to mind our feet movement, high elbows and higher bowling arms!

 

(Akash Kaware is an Indian IT professional, who would’ve been a successful  international cricketer if it hadn’t been for an annoying tendency to run towards square-leg while facing tennis, rubber or leather cricket balls hurled at anything at little more than genuine medium-pace! Watching Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid convinced him that breaking into the Indian team was not going to happen anytime soon and hence he settled to become an engineer and MBA, who occasionally wrote about cricket. A few months ago, sensing his uselessness and constant use of cricket websites at work, his company banished him to Canada. His hopes of playing international cricket have, thus, been renewed!)