Twenty20 has not altered the way cricket is traditionally played. Not yet. But it has fast-tracked the way it was supposed to evolve. With the one-day format, we saw innovations in the way players approached their cricket. T20 cricket has upped that ante.
The crossbat slog has been around for as long as cricket has been played. It went into oblivion because it wasn’t considered a decent shot to be played by top-order batsmen. But one-day cricket changed that somewhat and we saw it being played on a regular basis. Yet, it was largely restricted to the last few overs, and ideally, against spinners. After all, hitting across the line against Brett Lee’s pace was dangerous. But in the manic world of T20, it’s not just legitimate for top batsmen to play it, but prudent too. How is this done? Ross Taylor of New Zealand is one of its best exponents. He’s mastered the art of opening up his front leg, which allows him room to free his arms. He also has the confidence to go down on one knee to the quickest of men around.
This is another shot that’s far more popular now. It was first seen in the one-day format but T20 gave it a new dimension. Initially, it was just a tap on the ball but now is hit with brute force. It is given elevation as well, to clear the in-field, and some have managed to clear the fence too. Remember Kevin Pietersen reverse sweeping Muralitharan for a six? Just like the crossbat slog, this shot was also limited to the slower bowlers, but now batsmen have started trying it against the quicks as well. Mahendra Singh Dhoni does it with remarkable ease and Indian viewers would remember New Zealand’s Peter McGlashan playing it against both Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan.
Douglas Marillier of Zimbabwe came up with a new, unbelievable shot: an elevated version of the paddle sweep—part sweep, part scoop—that would sail over the keeper. The unbelievable part was that he played it off faster bowlers. He was probably the only one to play it till T20 came along. Now batsmen regularly walk across, or deep into the crease, to get the elevation and hit it either over the keeper’s head or short fine-leg.
Pietersen was not to be satisfied with sweeps and reverse-sweeps and took this shot to another level with his ‘switch hit’. One has to change his stance from left to right or vice versa, and also change the grip on the bat. The top hand goes down and the bottom hand comes up. A tough shot.
There are variations to the square-cut. People have started ‘under-cutting’ to hit it in the air. There’s no one better than Virender Sehwag when it comes to hitting the square cut. He has mastered all possible varieties of the stroke.
Bowlers have also rethought and come up with variations. But more than the variations, it’s their usage and accuracy that clinch the deal for them. Previously, one could get away with bowling at one particular length for a few balls in a row, but now, one can’t afford to pitch the ball in the same area for more than a couple of times in a row.
The main weapons in the bowler’s armoury—be it the yorker, bouncer, slower one or length ball—are still the same, but they have to master all of them now, so they may execute these at will.
Bowlers have come up with different kinds of slower ones but I wouldn’t give T20 the credit for the same. Just that most bowlers had only one kind of slower ball, but now they’re forced to have at least two or three of the same kind. Whether it’s the back of the hand, split fingers, holding the ball deep in the palm or the traditional off-cutter, the more you have, the better it is.
Twenty20 has made a radical impact on fielding and field positions. For instance, a short thirdman inside the circle was quite the norm while fielding to slow bowlers, but now we see that man standing up regularly for faster bowlers as well. Usually, the fielder comes up when a bowler decides to bowl the slower one, but it’s also just to ensure more cover for the mid-wicket fence.
Similarly, the fielder at mid-wicket has always been inside the ring but not anymore. To give cushion to the bowler for a Ross Taylor-type slog, the mid-wicket fielder is pushed to the fence.
Another strange but quite effective field position is a man next to the square-leg umpire. You probably wouldn’t find that unusual under certain circumstances, but if that happens while a fast bowler is operating and he has both the fine-leg and mid-wicket fielder right on the fence, it seems quite bizarre. But there is a reason. The man near the umpire is there to confuse the batsman. Despite that field position, a bowler will still retain the option of bowling a full-length delivery, slightly outside the off-stump.
Because of the time constraints, a fielding captain is generally on the lookout for anything that will shake the batsman out of his comfort zone. Constant changes in field placements are pretty much the norm. It’s rare that you’ll have your regulation three slips, a gully, the drop down to short-leg for the slower bowler, mid-wicket, and mid-off right for any length of time. With the odds stacked against a bowler, with the batsman having carte blanche to go bang, bang, bang from the word go, the fielding captain has one motto—confuse the batsman. Unconventional field placements, thus, will increasingly be typical.
The writer is a former India opener. He is part of Kolkata Knight Riders’ IPL squad