Lessons from the master for India’s talented youngsters

de Villiers’ unbeaten 73 against KKR must count as the innings of the tournament and was a wonderful lesson in adapting to surfaces

It’s always interesting when an expert slips out of his ‘professional’ garb and allows a child-like excitement to infiltrate his comments.

Such a moment occurred when the great Sunil Gavaskar, in the midst of the artificial enthusiasms all around at the IPL, spontaneously exclaimed while watching A.B. de Villiers strike a six: “Look at his follow-through! Look at the way his bat finishes above his left shoulder!” The six was arresting enough, but what caught Gavaskar’s fancy was the technical purity of the shot.

Cricket has always had an element of the Gita about it: the batsman’s job is to do his duty (by getting everything right) and leave the result to take care of itself. If you play correctly but no run is added to the score, that’s a part of the game. If your feet and hands and head and body mimic the textbook and you score six, then that is perfection. You are hailed both for the process and the product, and there can be no higher praise.

Definition of perfection

Such moments do not come often in a T20 game where the definition of perfection is different: perfection in batting is a six, or a score of 720 off the 120 deliveries bowled. It doesn’t matter if that six comes off the edge of the bat, when an attempted on-drive sees the ball end up at third man, or, as in the case of a Virat Kohli special recently, comes off the back of the bat. The ends justify the means.

Looking good is not an option when scoring fast is the alternative. Two batsmen, Kohli and K.L. Rahul, look good while scoring runs, but already there is a debate about whether Rahul, the highest aggregate scorer (as of Oct. 12), is doing it quickly enough.

For this is another quirk of the format. You work backwards from the result to decide whether an innings is good or not. This is a departure from the old thinking where an innings stood by itself regardless of the result. Batsmen sometimes prided themselves on a lotus-like approach, their innings blossoming above the mess the rest of the team might make.

A chanceless century in a lost cause is lauded in First Class cricket; in T20 it brings out the critic in even the casual viewer.

Rahul might have made a century and three 50s in seven games at a strike rate of 135, but his team Kings XI Punjab are struggling at the bottom. Such is the cruelty of the game. He and Kohli are probably the two players least drawn to what might be considered ‘ugly’ strokes. It doesn’t matter. Was the match won or lost? That is the only question T20 asks. Everything else is a bonus.

A.B. de Villiers’ unbeaten 73 off 33 balls (strike rate 221) must count as the innings of the tournament so far, and a wonderful lesson in adapting to surfaces for youngsters whether playing or watching. Sharjah was slow, and batsmen who went out to meet the ball, as Kohli discovered, often ended up in a tangle. de Villiers let the ball come on to him, and seemed to have all the time in the world to send it screeching or soaring to any part of the ground.

Putting it in context

One of the problems with traditional cricket statistics is that they don’t give us the context. Newer methods place de Villiers’ effort in perspective.

His strike rate was more than twice that of the batsmen in either team combined. He even made Kohli look out of sorts, causing his skipper to cheer when an edge ran down for his only boundary.

At the halfway stage of the league phase, even if some franchises haven’t done too well, India have done well. A generation of young batsmen, bowlers and wicketkeepers is being honed to perform at the international level.

This was high on the organisers’ wish list when the tournament was being sold to the public in its inaugural year. It was put about that the IPL would ensure India had ready-made players for international white ball tournaments, maybe even Test cricket.

The next T20 World Cup is in India about a year from now, and it is sobering to realise that India haven’t won the tournament since 2007 when they surprised the world (and themselves) by winning at first attempt.

Talented youngsters with confidence and style like Shubman Gill, Devdutt Padikkal, Ravi Bishnoi, Priyam Garg, Ishan Kishan, Riyan Parag, T. Natarajan, Kamlesh Nagarkoti — many born in this century — can add their names to those who have been around for a while and push for selection. It is a good place for India to be in.

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