No matter how much I dislike Shahid Afridi because of his ability to almost always score runs against India and murdering our attacks, one thing I just cannot deny - when on crease, he is a treat to watch. Like him, there are many batsmen who, no matter which side they play for, are worth watching even if they are just killing your own team’s bowlers. This kind makes you love the game more than the one playing it i.e. the Laras, the SRTs, the Sehwags, the Gilchrists, the Haydens of the world.
But there is another kind which is actually a mirror image of this ilk. This kind, even if batting for your own side, sometimes makes you think if the game is for your entertainment or it’s a tool to improve your tolerance in life. This kind actually makes you hate the game. You start liking Golf-Watching more than Cricket-watching on TV. Here are a few of my favourite gems in this category. Skill set chosen – batting only.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul – This list has to start with him. Not because he makes batting look really ugly. That he surely does. But he has earned something none other has. His cricinfo player profile page describes him as possessor of the crabbiest of techniques. To get a word which can be termed as disparaging in one’s cricinfo player profile page is not a small achievement. Even Gagan Khoda hasn’t achieved this feat. When I first saw him during WI tour to India in 1994, DD commentators described him as a leg spinner who could bat a bit. Either those commentator didn’t know him or they actually were good at spotting talent. If they were true, those commentators should have been appointed as national selectors. Even if they were not so good in spotting talent, our team selection couldn’t have gone any worse in 90s.
Coming back to him, I have never understood his batting stance in which the most visible part of his body is something a man always wants to hide. May be he wants to prove to everyone that he actually has balls of steel. The way he has batted in last few years, he actually has them. No matter how irritating he looks on the crease, he always scores runs and takes his time while doing so. During that time I wonder how come a genius with full of flair like Lara played with him for so many years. Or may be that is why he retired - it’s much easier to watch Chanderpaul on TV rather than while batting with him. Chanderpaul might just get irritate-out any batsman. May be that is why in 84 tests Chanderpaul and Lara have played together, Lara’s average drops by 5 points.
But I have never understood most of the things about him – what has written below his eyes while he is playing, why he tries to bury the bails when he comes to bat or why he plays cricket at all. But I am sure I am not the only one.
Jimmy Adams – He needs no introduction. Perhaps one of the very few players who have, in 127 ODIs, scored over 2000 runs, taken 43 wickets and claimed 5 stumpings. He tried his hands at everything from batting to bowling to wicket keeping but looked equally unimpressive in whatever he did. With his strong penchant for pads, he used pads more than his bat while batting, always bowled to the batsman’s pads and always stopped balls with pads rather than using his wicket keeping gloves. His strike rate of 38 in tests suggests that on an average he needed to bat almost 50 overs to score a century. This also means Adam’s team needed to bat over 100 overs for him to get a century. No wonder his every century came after 9 tests because West Indies batting out 100 overs has become a rarity right since 90s. In ODIs, on an average he scored 3.65 runs per over to get his 28 runs whereas his team scored 4.53 runs per over with every batsman scoring almost 28 runs. But when his team lost, he scored almost 3 per over compared to his team’s 4 runs per over. Average for both team as well as Adams dropped to 20. Okay, this analysis doesn’t prove anything. But he was always running parallel to his team just that he was slow enough to be always behind by one step. By his scoring rates in this age, there is just one IPL team for him – KKR. KKR would have loved to add him to its other precious possessions for t20 i.e. the Chopras, the Bangars and the ilks.
Paul Collingwood – He is an expert in converting confirmed defeats to a sure draw and then getting out making sure all 11 batsmen get credit for a nail-biting draw. Graeme Smith will confirm it. During recent ENG-SA series, Mark Boucher tied Collingwood’s bat with his shoe laces to make sure he couldn’t lift his bat to play any stroke and get out. It didn’t matter as only time Collingwood lifts his bat is when he reaches a milestone. He didn’t do it in that innings because he didn’t even score a 50. But he played as many balls as Sehwag needs to score his third triple ton. Collingwood believes in one philosophy - keep the bat down and remain still. He remains so still that Madam Tussad has constructed his statue while he was batting. It will be put up in Lords pavilion during Ashes 2011. Those who think batting is all about flashy drives, pivoting hooks & pulls, classy cuts where even the follow through action is worth a picture, watch Collingwood. He doesn’t have any back-lift whatsoever, has very minimal follow through, and looks like a machine that has been programmed with skills to play only certain kinds of strokes. If a batsman can score 40 in 276 balls when even 4.0 runs per over in tests doesn’t surprise anyone, he must have been born in wrong age.
Gary Kirsten – I can recall every stroke he played because they were all similar. A walk towards the offside which turns wicketkeeper into leg slip and first slip into wicketkeeper, a constipated look on the face, run even before you have played the stroke and keep piling. His strategy was simple. When opponents target you with a 7-2 offside field, just turn it to your advantage. Walk towards offside and convert keeper into second leg slip, first slip into first leg slip and second slip into keeper. This converts a 7-2 field into 5-4 field. After all it’s all in the minds. Now every ball bouncing on real off stump will be targeting your virtual leg stump. Now you can even go to match referee and complain about body line bowling. His shuffles were so big that once he was given out ‘obstructing the field’ because point fielder complained of disturbance. He kept walking all the time but for when an incorrect decision went in his favour. And believe me, his tactics made batting look extremely irritating. And the length of time he used to spend on crease and amount of runs he scored, it made worse. To add to that, his face always remained same – constipated. I have never understood how such a boring batsman can suggest erotic theories like more sex improves cricket. Even before Kirsten denied having said so, I knew he couldn’t do it. Not sex I meant. He couldn’t have said it.
MS Dhoni – I know he is an Indian so I like seeing him bat. I know he has been the most consistent batsman in ODIs ever since he has become India’s captain. I know he can be given credit for many of India’s recent wins not only in ODIs and T20s but also in tests. But see him through neutral eyes. MS is an ugly batsman. Effective alright, but so have been others mentioned above. Once he used to be the kind of batsman who waited for 15 balls before cutting loose and tried to score a 50 in next 15 balls. But ever since India has done away with Rahul Dravid, MS has become wanna-be RD. One footed hits to Yorkers have been replaced by strange pushes to anywhere between third-man to long off. His cautious approach to first 15 balls has been extended to 50 balls and belligerence after that has almost disappeared. If you have seen him bat recently, you must have done so, just visualise his batting for first 80% part of his innings. How can a batsman play cover drive to mid off with both feet in the air? And how can commentators describe it as a beautiful shot? They must be charging extra for it because to me even Renuka Sahane looked more stylish in HAHK than MS looks while steeling a single to mid-wicket.
Mike Hussey – Thank God to Australia’s recent tour of India else Australians would have started demanding not only Knighthood but also Bharat Ratna for him. Indians made them taste the reality. To hell with numbers, Hussey is a boring batsman. He, like Adams or Chanderpaul, looks like those sincere and studious students who have been given last lifeline in the college so they start behaving like machines – no movies, no porns, no alcohol, no class bunks, no mischief, no girls and just books. His expressions while batting match my expression when I am fighting for breath in 8:22AM fast local to Churchgate. They way he is technically copybook in whatever he does, people say he remained constipated during his entire tour to India. Toilets given to him were Indian in style and he had never read about how to use them.
Other two most prominent names which, people claim, make batting look boring could be Rahul Dravid and Kallis. But I disagree. They may be painfully slow batsmen but just think about RD’s square cut and Kallis’ cover drive. I am sure you would agree with me now. They make batting look like an art and not engineering. Others are otherwise.
Disclaimer – My View, attempt on humor and sarcasm, and the rest of the typical stuff.