If you had to sum up England’s loss against the West Indies at the Wankhede Stadium on Wednesday night, it would be “pulverised”. For that was exactly hat it was when Chris Gayle came into the elements with the bat in hand, smashing a 47-ball 100 not out as his side chased the more-than-competitive target of 182 with 6 wickets in hand and 11 balls to spare.
It was pure entertainment for the few fans that had turned up venue who had experienced disappointment only the previous night when they saw India losing to New Zealand in the opening night of the Super 10s in the ICC World T20 2016.
This was the 36-year-old Jamaican’s second T20 hundred of his World T20 career, thereby making him only the first player to cross the mark twice in the history of the gala event.
There were all the usual facets that one see in a Gayle innings last night, but one particular aspect that stood out for me was the way he played the spin of Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid. Both bowlers received severe treatment from the left-hander and some of the sixes weren't only towering, but aslo proper, clean cricketing strokes.
The over where he hit Ali for 22 runs, saw 3 blows cross the boundary, each of whom was straight over the bowler’s head and were correct cricketing shots. The final three words of the last sentence is something you don't necessarily associate with Gayle, but it is an indication of how batsman have evolved and understood better ways of not just scoring runs, but also look to develop a sense of consistency into their play.
With someone like Gayle, footwork was always never an area of importance, it was always power and bat swing that mattered. However, encouragingly, last night, he looked to maintain his shape, especially while hitting the ball down the ground, the former also an area where he didn't seem to give a lot of thought in the past.
Most good players in the modern game also adopt a similar approach. Virat Kohli from India is a fine example of someone who fetches runs by not slogging but by playing shots that gets him runs in both Tests and 50-over format and it was evident in the innings against Pakistan in the Asia Cup last month, when some of the cover-driving seemed just like the ones he would play in any other format- a simple extension of the front foot defense with a slightly horizontal bat and allowing the timing to do the rest.
The fact that the some of today’s batsmen are looking to play proper shots to get runs in T20s is even more commendable if you consider the wide range of angles they have manipulated now as compared to a few years ago. Its just shows that they are willing to trust the basics, and not necessarily play the wild slog from ball one.
The ploy to get runs by playing conventional cricketing shots was perhaps first seen in Rahul Dravid, who in that disastrous opening season of the Indian Premier League(IPL) was one of the few bright spots for the Royal Challengers Bangalore and he got most of his runs by playing authentic cricketing shots. People didn't consider it to be right style of playing, some even were surprised how he got runs with that mindset.
But it didn't deter him and even in a later interview, he maintained that there were enough opportunities available on the field to get runs if one plays correct cricketing shots. It now seems like that line-of-thought is being followed by the rest of the world as well.