Running in Against the Tide: In Defence of Bowlers

By Sean Brown for LastWordOnCricket

Batting has improved, bowling has not. Argument over.

Essentially, this is the view that Nasser Hussain has shared with cricket fans over the past year in regards to white-ball cricket. One must wonder how one disciple can leave the other behind so rapidly, resulting in a vast imbalance between bat and ball. At what stage will bowlers exist merely to make up the numbers and put the bails back on after they have ended a barrage of boundaries and ruined everyone’s fun?

Batsmanship: Progression or Regression?

Batsmanship against the white ball has improved exponentially in the last few years. Gone are the days where opening batsmen would see off the new ball and wait until the last ten overs to make their assault. Arguably, in terms of playing standard, t20 cricket has affected the 50-over format more compared to Test cricket. Batsmen have been able to transfer skills acquired in the shortest format so now the only real difference between the formats is the over count.

Batsmanship has evolved so rapidly due a bigger emphasis on power hitting and developing a wider range of shots. Of course, batsmen did not just wake up one day and find they could play a reverse ramp shot against a 90mph bowler; indeed, practise makes perfect. For that, they must be credited. However, so many factors have been modified to allow batsmen to thrive. Boundaries sizes have decreased, powerplays introduced and adjusted to restrict the amount of boundary fielders, and most importantly, pitches have been flattened. In the words of Michael Vaughan, when covering the Big Bash, ‘nobody wants to see a slow dog’ – in other words, viewers want to see boundaries. The game does not need to be modified for any disciple to have an advantage, but prepared so each is evenly matched.

On the other hand, batsmanship could be seen to have regressed. How often now do we see ugly heaves to the leg side but due to flat pitches and huge bats, the ball still flies away for six? Even when the batsmen does not connect or is deceived by a slower ball, the ball still flies over the head of short third man for yet another boundary.

Take Virat Kohli’s dismissal in the third ODI against England at Eden Gardens in January 2017. Ben Stokes bowls a reasonably wide delivery on a good length and takes the outside edge as there is enough lateral movement to do so. Had he played the exact same shot in either of the first two matches, it probably would have gone for six. Even if Kohli had missed the ball, he would be forced to reconsider his shot selection due to the ball’s movement. It makes for a better contest, the batsman knows he cannot just throw his hands at anything and be rewarded. Furthermore, batsmen can quite easily mishit the ball and still score. Whereas if a bowler misses his length by a matter of inches, six.

Nasser Hussain again remarked that bowlers can help themselves by bowling one side of the wicket and bowling a good line and length. Rewind back to the t20 World Cup last year where Steve Smith, facing Wahab Riaz, stood on practically the next strip along in order to whip the ball down to fine leg – the only gap due to a highly packed off-side field

Essentially, if you can bowl the perfect delivery sixty times in a row, you have what it takes to be a successful one-day international bowler.

Improvement of bowling has been hindered by the modifications made to allow runs to be scored. The only real change made that has benefitted bowlers has been a new ball at either end. Other than that, leg-side wides still exist, two for the over, and any kind of no ball is a free hit. Being dispatched for six after six is demoralising enough for a full grown professional at the height of his career, but what kind of message are we sending to the next generation?

Children will look up and admire Ben Stokes the destructive batsman, not the defenceless bowler. Every youngster watching white-ball cricket will be dreaming of sending the ball into the stands, not trying to stop it.