Why the all rounder species is regressing? - Suresh Menon column

2009 May 02 by Suresh Menon

If the New Zealand all rounder Jacob Oram is to be believed, however, the all rounder is set to regress, ridding himself of his extra skill in order to prolong his career.

Coach John Buchanan saw the future all rounder as a player who bowled both right handed and left handed and could bat either right or left with equal felicity. Vic Marks has bowled off either hand in a first class match, as has Hanif Mohammed, while playing for Pakistan against Somerset on the 1954 tour of England. With the arrival of 'switch-hitting' - Kevin Pietersen once startled bowler Scott Styris during a one-day international when he suddenly switched hands and stance to hit a six over cover or midwicket depending on your orientation - fans might be forgiven if they believe the evolution is nearly complete.

If the New Zealand all rounder Jacob Oram is to be believed, however, the all rounder is set to regress, ridding himself of his extra skill in order to prolong his career. Too much cricket, too many formats, and the bulk of the money in the wrong format will ensure this. Oram, 30, is considering giving up bowling or Test cricket or both.

"Being an all rounder is a tough job," says Oram who has played 31 Tests and 130 one-day internationals for New Zealand, but sees the lolly in Twenty20 cricket as important in the twilight of his career. With rare honesty he has said that it is about money. There are practical considerations like "mortgages and bills and family to feed."

Most of the all rounders in world cricket are struggling at the moment. Andrew Flintoff had to return to England from the IPL to tend to his knee, Shane Watson has been out of action while Dwayne Bravo was allowed by his Board to miss the West Indies series to recover from injury (that he is playing the IPL puts the whole argument in perspective). Jacques Kallis is soldiering on, but he looks half the bowler he was.

Statistically one of the greatest all rounders to have played the game, Kallis at 33 is struggling to put his stamp on a match in the way a lesser all rounder like Yusuf Pathan has been doing.

Perhaps there is a hint here that the all rounder, far from being a jack of all trades in a sport of three formats might have to be defined more specifically. Yusuf is the quintessential Twenty20 all rounder, capable of hitting a robust 40 or 50, of bowling four overs for 30 runs and claiming the odd wicket. He does not fit into a Test eleven as an all rounder, though. It is easier for a Test player to adjust to the 50-over one-day game than it was for the reverse to happen. But Twenty20 is not so much a difference in degree as a difference in kind.

It is conceivable that an international side fields an eleven that is entirely different from its Test eleven or one-day eleven.

The all rounder has a hectic work rate if he is involved in all forms of the game. Of course, the obvious answer is to cut down on the games, but once the IPL money was flashed about, even the players' associations which had been screaming that there was too much cricket felt that the best solution would be to have some more.

Buchanan and Oram, therefore, represent the two ends of the scale - one, a theoretician whose hypotheses make it all seem exciting, and the other a player who reveals to us the practical difficulties inherent in theories. There is something sad about a player needing to ignore one of his basic skills in order to prolong his career. But there is something inevitable about it.