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On The Fundamental Fragility Of Batting

Today new writer Srinivas S discusses a subject close to my heart. I’m sure all batsmen out there agree …

There one moment, gone the next

Few things in sport symbolise the fragility of life as batting does. There one moment, a Batsman may be gone the very next, undone by a superb delivery or, just as often, by an error of judgement on his part or the umpire’s. Little surprise then that some of cricket’s finest batsmen often emphasise on the importance of the next ball. How a batsman deals with it determines at any given time the fate of his innings and, by extension, the longevity of his career.

Cricket today is widely regarded as a batsman’s game, but a batsman’s stint at the crease is a better metaphor for transience than a bowler’s spell. A bowler who has unflattering figures can still turn his day around by dismissing a couple of important batsmen from the opposition, or by just bowling a tidy spell at a crucial stage of the match. A batsman who has been dismissed, however, has to watch the game helplessly from beyond the boundary.

Moreover, it is not always the case that a batsman’s destiny rests in his own hands. For example, a batsman going out on a pair, looking to resurrect or establish a career, has to return to the pavilion without even facing a ball, if a bowler’s deflection of a straight drive onto the stumps finds him outside the non-striker’s crease. On another day, the ball may go for four, and he may go on to win the match for his team, and to have a storied career.

Things beyond a batsman’s control

A batsman may do everything right, but too much of his batting life depends on things that he cannot control. He may be facing a great bowler whose powers are on the wane, or a mediocre one who is in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime-spell. He may be middling the ball gloriously on a summer’s day, or counting the number of edges on his bat on an overcast evening.

He may be the beneficiary of a rare dropped catch from a fielder who doesn’t drop many, or the victim of a blinder taken by poppadum fingers. He may be greeted by a belter of a wicket on the third day of a Test match, by a green top on the first morning of it, or by a minefield on the last afternoon. He may also see the umpire’s call going in his favour when he has already made a century, or against him when he has not yet crossed ten!

Then there are factors that he can control, but not quite fully all the time. How many times, for instance, has a batsman been dismissed because he turned his wrists on the ball a split second too late or too early? On how many occasions has eagerness forced a batsman to go too hard at a ball and inside-edge it onto his stumps?

Countless too are instances when a player in good form has driven a half-volley casually and, therefore, into the hands of a fielder in the thirty yards circle. Then, there is the tragicomedy of watching a fine player of the short ball pull one into the only pair of hands stationed on the legside boundary.

Batsman versus world

At best, a batsman’s stay at the crease has to do with the forces of fortune working in his favour. At worst, it has to do with the same forces arrayed against him. The effects of these forces may cancel each other out over a long career, but whether a batsman has one depends on the kinds of challenges he faces at various points of time and how he comes through them. This isn’t to say that talent, technique and toil do not count; they do, especially in preparing a batsman for the battle on the field.

Once there, however, he is all alone, not just against eleven men from the opposition, but also against the people vying for his place, so to speak, and the world which is ready to pronounce judgement at the drop of a hat. Every run he makes therefore is a triumph of resilience over the elements. Conversely, every dismissal he encounters represents the inevitable consumption of the individual by the vagaries of life.

Srinivas S

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