News just in: Ben Stokes has been bought for the astonishing figure of $2.16 million USD in the IPL auction. The team that has paid this eye-watering figure, the Rising Pune Silly Nannies, obviously didn’t watch the World T20 final, when poor Ben was absolutely slaughtered by Carlos Brathwaite.
Needing an unlikely 19 off the final over, Stokes’ first four balls disappeared into the stands … 6, 6, 6 and then 6 again. It was an absolutely chastening experience for the Durham all-rounder that basically cost his team the title. One could argue that Brathwaite won the game rather than Stokes losing it – after all, only the first ball of the over was terrible – but the bottom line is that England’s newly appointed vice captain didn’t quite hit the right lengths … and was punished heavily as a result.
Now don’t get me wrong. I really like Stokes as a cricketer. I’m not writing this primarily to criticise him. He’s a multidimensional cricketer who’s also a destructive batsman and an absolutely awesome fielder. He’s also a real fighter who hasn’t show any mental scars after enduring such a public embarrassment. What I’m actually trying to do is make a broader point about the state of modern white ball cricket: there seems to be an acceptance now that T20 (and ODI cricket to a significant extent) are now purely batsmen’s games – and the bowlers are mere cannon fodder.
Pune’s attitude fascinates me. If they’re willing to spend a king’s ransom on a bowler who came up short when it mattered most, they’re effectively shrugging their shoulders and saying “so what … it happens … Brathwaite was brilliant and there’s not a lot a bowler can do when a batsmen is on fire”.
I personally think such a mindset would’ve been incredible ten or twenty years ago. Death bowling was a real art. But where have all the top-drawer finishers gone? Only Lasith Malinga, with his bizarre trajectory that must’ve been a nightmare to pick up, really stands out in modern times. I can’t think of anyone else who has produced the goods consistently over a long period of time.
One reason for this is that bowlers have no margin for error whatsoever anymore. Whereas yorkers were usually a safe bet at the end of an innings, it’s now incredibly difficult to get six deliveries in a row in exactly the right spot. Why? Because ‘the right spot’ is a much smaller spot than it used to be. Modern batsmen use the crease so well, and now have an array of ramp shots and scoops in their armoury, that pinpoint accuracy is everything. It’s a bit like trying to flick a penny into your mate’s pint from 22 yards away.
Many bowlers have consequently concluded that the risk:reward ratio with yorkers no longer adds up: unless a yorker is absolutely spot on, it’s a particularly easy delivery for batsmen to get under and hit for six. Therefore they’d rather try something else with a greater percentage chance of success. This usually involves either varying their pace, varying their lengths, or preferably both. Why else would coaches come up with such an ostensibly ridiculous concept as ‘the slower ball bouncer’?!
As bats get heavier, boundaries shrink, and batsmen become more powerful and innovative, bowlers now have nowhere to hide. Sometimes a bowler’s best bet is simply to hold their nerve, keep the batsmen guessing, and give nothing away. In effect, white ball cricket has become something of a guessing game. And if the batsman guesses right, there’s not much a bowler can do.
I’d be intrigued to know what you all think about the current stage of limited overs cricket. Are bowlers now an endangered species – nothing more than bowling machines for range hitters to dismantle at their leisure – or do you think there are ways bowlers can innovate too? Or perhaps you simply think that the current crop of professional batsmen are particularly good and the current crop of bowlers are unusually poor?
I have to say, however, that I am actually quite concerned. The authorities might think that high scoring games make cricket more compelling, and will attract larger audiences, but personally I’m not so sure. Surely what people want to see is an even contest between bat and ball? This is what creates the most tension and drama.
What’s more, if sixes become more and more common then surely they’ll become less and less special? And where on earth does cricket go from there – award a team eight runs if they can hit the ball into the stadium’s top tier? I’m obviously being a tad facetious here but the ICC (and MCC) will have to do something to ramp up the drama if every other delivery starts sailing out of the park. After all, it is possible have too much of a good thing.
And what about our poor bowlers? What incentive will kids have to be the next Jimmy Anderson or Graeme Swann if even mishit shots are going the distance – like they frequently do these days. Totals could get higher exponentially if the quality of emerging bowlers diminishes.
PS Thanks to Feedspot for naming us the 13th best cricket site in their top 60 rankings. We’re nestled somewhere between Island Cricket and The Cricket Paper. I promise I didn’t bribe them … although I have subsequently agreed to link to their site. Apparently we’re now the 1,970,762nd most visited website in the entire world according to Alexa. I’ll let you know when we break that magic top one million 😉