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Ravichandran Ashwin is a classic example of a multi-dimensional player in modern-day cricket. Apart from his skills in off-spin, his solid batting technique lower down the order makes him a valuable player in the side © IANS

By Prakash Govindasreenivasan

In modern day cricket, unidimensional players have taken a beating. The impact of the growing need for a cricketer to put in an all-round effort has been adverse on the bowlers. Not many in today’s competitive cricket can get away by just doing the job for their skipper with the ball. To put it in management terms, if you can’t multitask, even above average skill levels may not suffice in retaining your spot in the organisation.

Third-man and fine-leg positions were, once upon a time, the safe haven for below-par fielders in the side. However, with T20 cricket displacing the sports conventional versions, angles are being cut, norms are being broken and balls are flying to parts of the ground where they would have seldom gone a couple of decades ago. Jonty Rhodes, perhaps the greatest fielder to have graced a cricket field, once said in an interview that in today’s game, there was no place to hide for the average fielders.

Not long ago in 2012, when India were touring Australia, Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni had devised a process by which only two out of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir played each game. His logic behind that move was to make a spot for a player who could provide better service in the field and save 15-20 runs for his side. It was a clear message sent out by the Indian skipper on what he expects from his set of cricketers.

On a different field of play, in football, manager Jose Mourinho’s ways comes to mind. Known more for his knack of building sides that are defensively rock-solid, he returned to English Premier League side Chelsea with a squad filled with a lot of creative midfielders. Yet, the guidelines were probably written in bold on day one. Unless players track back when their side needs them — irrespective of the position they play in — they are unfit to feature in the starting XI. Call it the ‘Mourinho way’ if you like, but the fact that unidimensional players cannot survive the needs and demands of modern-day sport is quite evident.

While limited-overs cricket expects the bowlers and every average Joe in the team to work harder on their fielding skills, it is their prowess to hold fort with the bat in Tests that is starting to count. It is not long ago when the likes of Jason Gillespie and Glenn McGrath proved that they were no dummies with the bat and when provided with the right occasions they can even reach triple figures. India’s Ajit Agarkar, despite having an infamous record of five consecutive ducks has a century at Lord’s with his name inscribed on the Lord’s honour’s board (even Sachin Tendulkar doesn’t have that achievement).

Ravichandran Ashwin’s latest exploits with the bat, laced with a hint of textbook strokeplay, goes a long way in proving to Dhoni that he is a bowling all-rounder. The stocks of a jack-of-all-trades Ravindra Jadeja have also risen astronomically in the recent past, with his ability to offer something in all aspects of the game.

Another budding youngster Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who would much rather prefer working on his skills with the ball in his hand, has a sound technique that could soon be tested in the longest format of the game. Invariably, he will have to put his hand up and put a heavy price on his wicket in sticky situations in Tests.

The Ashes 2013 saw Australia’s Ashton Agar shine with the bat, with Stuart Broad being a fitting response from the English camp.

Cricket has reached a stage where even tail-enders have to reach out of the realms of the definition of that term and be of more use than what they are picked in the side for. Besides the service they consistently provide, the additional bonus material that they bring to the fore accounts for a lot in the eyes of the selectors.

To add to the changing colours of the game, further competition for spots within the ranks has given rise to unexpected levels of demand for complete players.

(Prakash Govindasreenivasan is a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @PrakashG_89)