Bowlers seem to be taking their occasional role as batsmen more seriously in the 50-over game, a format that has seen constant innovation over the years. An indication of this comes from the current World Cup that is being hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The past week witnessed two instances of tail-enders holding their nerve in thrillers and there have been several cases of sound batting by bowlers in this World Cup.
South Africa’s number 9 batsman Robin Peterson hit 18 (not out), with two fours and a six, against India on 12 March to help his side to a three-wicket victory with two balls to spare. A day earlier, number 10 batsman Shafiul Islam slammed 24 (not out), with four boundaries and a six, to help Bangladesh pull off a spectacular two-wicket win over England with six balls remaining.
Saviours: Bangladesh’s Shafiul Islam (left) and South Africa’s Robin Peterson (extreme right), predominantly bowlers, have made critical contributions with the bat to help their teams pull off wins in this World Cup. AP
With the current form of One Day cricket turning out to be batting-dominated, the emphasis across teams seems to be equally on bowlers possessing the ability to contribute a bit with the willow.
“It’s been a conscious effort by teams for some time now to have their bowlers contribute in the other department of the game,” says former India stumper Nayan Mongia. “Moreover, it’s not easy for a player to survive in One Day cricket and Twenty20 cricket solely on the basis of one department unless he is exceptionally good.”
“The game has transformed so much, and with matches usually both high-scoring and close, teams need number 9, 10 and 11 to contribute with the bat. In the case of this World Cup, the wickets are mostly flat,” adds Mongia.
The 50-over game has gone through various phases in over four decades of existence. The focus shifted from genuine all-rounders in the 1980s—such as Kapil Dev, Ian Botham and Imran Khan—to bits-and-pieces cricketers (who could bat and bowl a bit) in the 1990s—such as Carl Hooper and Ajay Jadeja—to the current trend of working on the bowlers to bat usefully.
“Australia’s Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and even Shaun Tait can bat usefully, India’s Harbhajan Singh and even Zaheer Khan are handy, not to forget England’s Graeme Swann. It’s the demand of the modern limited-overs game for bowlers to bat a bit,” says Mongia.
England’s Swann put on 31 runs with Ajmal Shahzad and Tim Bresnan to tie the game against India (England, 338 for 8), while Ireland’s numbers 7 and 8, A.R. Cusack and J.F. Mooney, scored 47 and 33 not out, respectively, in their surprise win over England.
India won the 1983 World Cup on the strength of its all-rounders—Dev, Madan Lal and Roger Binny. Tactical innovations, such as field restrictions in the 1990s to the current powerplays concept, have seen the game transform dramatically into a batting slug-fest. With matches now high-scoring affairs due to technological improvement in the kind of bats and tactical innovations—anything under 330-340 is not considered safe—teams focus on their batting line-up running deep.
“The mantra for teams is to bat deep, till number 9 or 10,” agrees former India batsman Lalchand Rajput. “For that, the bowlers need to be adept with the bat.”
“There is a dearth of genuine all-rounders in international cricket. This has also led to the focus shifting on to bowlers batting a bit,” says Rajput, a former India under-19 team coach.
“Barring experienced South African Jacques Kallis, who has been around for over a decade and a half, possibly only Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews falls in the category of a genuine all-rounder in the current game,” adds the former Mumbai cricketer.
“The reason could be possibly because the role of a genuine all-rounder is demanding on the body, and affects the player’s longevity in the game, considering the large amounts of cricket being played,” says Rajput.
“If you take a look at the teams at this World Cup, you will notice there are more cases of bowlers who can bat a bit. Only the Indian team has batting ‘all-rounders’ like Yusuf Pathan, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh. With all other teams, it is more a case of bowlers who can bat a bit,” he adds.
Write to us at email@example.com