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Cricket is a heck of a lot more watchable than ever before - Sunil Gavaskar

2009 May 29 by DreamCricket USA

Test cricket will still remain the pinnacle for the players themselves to judge how good they are and for history to evaluate them but as far as the modern spectators are concerned they are only interested in the now and not in the history books.

The old saying that the game is still the same and it's between bat and ball is still true. However there has been such a radical change in approach and attitude in the last decade and particularly in the last couple of years since the T20 format came into the game that it is fair to say that the game is totally unrecognisable from what it was even a decade or so back. Gone are the days of lazy mornings and afternoons where a batsman could take his time to get set and then play his shots as also the days when seniors were kept in the slips so that they did not have to run too much. Absolutely gone are the days when a fielder just ran after the ball and escorted it to the boundary and totally gone are the days of spotless whites at the end of the days play, be it a batsman or fielder.

It is still a game where a bowler bowls and a batsman bats but by God its action all the way from ball one and the crowds are loving it. It's not just a T20 match but also a Test match where the first ball is likely to be clobbered for a six and so spectators are well advised to be at the ground well before the game begins else they may miss some of the most explosive moments in the match.

When the limited-overs version of the game came in, the sceptics said that it wasn't real cricket and when it took root they said that Test cricket would die. What happened was that Test cricket got more attractive with more action in a session than was seen earlier in a days play. There were more shots played and less dot balls in the days play and that meant there were more runs on the board and more excitement for the spectators and viewers on TV. The aspect of leaving the ball alone became less and less as batsmen began to think more in terms of chances to score rather than letting balls go. Sure that meant that the keeper and slips were also in action a lot more and connoisseurs started to talk about lack of technique forgetting that it was getting more runs than in previous eras and consequently more result games than draws after five days of cricket.

The T20 format has galvanised the game even more and though it is palpably tilted in favour of the batsmen, what it has spawned is a new range of shotmaking that is seeing more balls landing among the crowd. The shot over extra cover is not a new shot but the T20 format has seen more of it and its landing deeper into the crowd. This is not just due to good quality bats but also because of the expert physical conditioning the players are undergoing. The players today are infinitely more strong and fitter than players of the last decade and it is not just the powerful shots but also the strong returns back from the boundary by the fielders that takes the breath away.

Normally its the batsmen with strong top hands and a high grip that are expected to send the ball soaring over the boundary but its seen now that even those with strong bottom hand grips who are hitting the big sixes. Look at the hits from Sehwag, Symonds, Tendulkar, to name just three of the bottom hand brigade and you will understand what a difference it has made to coaching batting today. The top hand hitters still have the big shots like Adam Gilchrist does but coaches will no longer insist on a young kid having a strong top hand so long as he can hit the ball into the crowd. It is also this change in attitude of the coaches that has helped to make batting so attractive. They are actively encouraging batsmen to be aggressive and take the initiative and take the game away from the bowlers. The lofted shot is not looked at with disdain and a shake of the head but more with a smile and a nod.

That is why the lap shot from outside the off stump over the fielder at fine leg and the switch hit is practiced more and used more in limited overs cricket than earlier. There was a magical moment in this edition of the IPL when Sachin Tendulkar played the reverse of the lap shot by shovelling the ball on the off side as if he was cranking up a vintage car. This was the first sighting of this shot and don't be surprised if more and more batsmen start to play this shot especially when the fielders are in the circle on the off side.

The use of part time bowlers in the T20 format is another aspect that will have a bearing on future limited overs games. Rohit Sharma who hardly gets a bowl in the nets has taken a hat-trick and Suresh Raina has been cleverly used by Mahendra Singh Dhoni and has picked wickets too. This means that the skippers of their teams will have a few more options up their sleeves when the going is getting tough for the regular bowlers and may well mean a new look at the composition of the playing elevens in the future. If a skipper is willing to take a risk with a non-regular but useful bowlers like Raina and Sharma then he has the option to pack his team with batsmen. That will give his team more chances of chasing big totals. That both Raina and Sharma are excellent fielders to boot is just a plus plus situation for Dhoni.

Test cricket will still remain the pinnacle for the players themselves to judge how good they are and for history to evaluate them but as far as the modern spectators are concerned they are only interested in the now and not in the history books. Cricket still may be a game between bat and ball but its a heck of a lot more watchable than ever before.