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Cricket Adjusts to its Times but Retains its Essence

28 August 2010.

Cricket is a game of skill. Observers can talk all they like about how the game has changed but in the end it all comes back to technique and temperament.

Every generation thinks it has invented the wheel. Newspapers, films, telephones have been consigned to the rubbish dump but all remain intact. iPods and iPads are supposed to alter everything but still there are cornflakes and masala dosa on the breakfast table.

It’s the same in cricket. The rules are tweaked here and there but the battle between bat and ball endures. Bats are thicker (as are some of the batsmen) but not longer or wider. Balls can be coated in mint but they are the same weight and shape.

The stumps are the same height; the pitch is the same length. Dismissals are the same, bowled, leg before, caught and so forth.

In short, cricket adjusts to its times but retains its essence. Traditionalists ought not to baulk even at T20. Cricket does not inhabit a museum. It is a living entity and obliged to respond to its surroundings. Most of the innovations accredited to or blamed upon the Indian contingent actually reflect the era not the BCCI.

If anything, romantics ought to congratulate the game for its ability to absorb. In any case the core has survived.

Mohammad Asif

English batsman Kevin Pietersen being bowled first ball in Bristol by Pakistan’s Mohammad Asif. © Colin Malsingh [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Asif’s exhibition of excellence

Anyone paying close attention to Mohammed Asif’s bowling in England would be confident that cricket remains a craft. Asif might have been bowling in Dunedin a hundred years ago or on a hazy morning in Hove thirty years past. His subtle variations, command of movement, accuracy, patience and occasional exasperation belong to every age and none. It has been an exhibition of excellence.

Asif’s performance was also a reminder that the quality of bowling matters more than style. A decade ago young comrades began telling old codgers that medium pace was finished. Modern batsmen were not going to tolerate that sort of nonsense. Even now I can remember Devon teammates announcing that medium-pacers were mere cannon fodder. Accordingly it came as a surprise to watch them go pale whenever Julian Shackleton turned up to play.

Shack was a grey-haired tailor who sent down unerring out-swingers with a smooth action. He was as hard to hit as a nocturnal mosquito. Not even the best professionals could get hold of him. His dad, Derek of England and Hampshire fame, had been twice as good. Julian was good enough to remove your correspondent for a pair and to torment rude youth.

Come to think of it they said the same about off-spin. Such is the brashness of youth. Instead, orthodox spin has risen from the dead, and is expected to have a big part to play in the forthcoming Ashes series. And so the eternal cycle continues.

Sehwag’s greatness vindicated

Virender Sehwag was the other player to catch the eye during the week. His hundred provided further confirmation of his stature and the ability of great batsmen sooner or later to thrive in every form of the game.

Sometimes it is harder for natural aggressors to find the right tempo in 50-over contests. Michael Slater had the same problem. Already in fifth gear by instinct, they tend to seek sixth and so grind the clutch.

Sehwag’s ton served another purpose. It was an innings of instruction. Here was an accomplished opener using talent, nerve and judgement to score runs as colleagues floundered.

Sehwag might be a swashbuckler in the modern style but he knows and respects the basics of the game, and puts them to use in his match-winning efforts.

This article was written for The Hindu
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