Shamik Das


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

When reverse-sweeps go wrong

World Cup final, Eden Gardens, Calcutta, November 8th, 1987: Mike Gatting mistimes a reverse-sweep off Allan Border as England crash to defeat

AS the debate rages on over the legality or otherwise of Kevin Pietersen's superb left-handed sixes on Sunday, minds are cast back to a time when England's batsmen had yet to master the fine art of unorthodox batting.

The setting is Eden Gardens in the heart of old Calcutta, the world's biggest cricket ground with a capacity of 120,000, the game is the World Cup final against Australia, and England are cruising to victory at 135 for 2 chasing 254 to win, more than half way there less than half way through their overs with eight wickets remaining.

The match slipping away from him, the World Cup seemingly heading towards England, Australia captain Allan Border decides to shake things up and brings himself on.

His opposite number Mike Gatting plants his front foot forward, twists his bat around and attempts to steer the ball down to third man. However, failing to land a clean strike he merely chips the ball up and into the gleeful hands of Aussie wicket-keeper Greg Dyer.

Five wickets and 27 overs later and England fall agonisingly short, losing by seven runs in the closest and best World Cup final to date as the world champions won the first of their four World Cups.

Fast forward two decades and one-day cricket is a very different beast, with present-day England batsmen adept at a whole range of strokes that the great WG would never have dreamed of playing, from the scoop-shot over the wicket-keeper's head to Pietersen's outrageous maximums against the Kiwis.

We have left-off: Kevin Pietersen swaps wrists to slap Scott Styris over the boundary for six    KP goes nuts: The South African celebrates his first one-day century on "home" soil

First, he switched grips to launch New Zealand all-rounder Scott Styris over deep cover for six, and then, four overs later, he not only switched to a left-hander's grip but a leftie's orthodox stance as well, waited what seemed an age and lashed the hapless Styris over long-off for an almighty six to move into the nineties.

It isn't the first time KP's hit a left-handed six, having smashed the great Murali, off all people, over point in the second Test at Edgbaston two years ago, when he scored an incredible 142 of England's 294 runs as England cantered to a six wicket victory.

And, having branded critics of his unorthodoxy "ridiculous" and "absolutely stupid" yesterday, the world's number eight one-day batsman will have been delighted to learn that the Marylebone Cricket Club have decided not to ban switch-hitting after all.

"MCC believes that the 'switch-hit' stroke is innovative and exciting for the game of cricket," read a statement on the MCC's website this afternoon. "Indeed, the stroke conforms to the Laws of Cricket and will not be legislated against.

"While noting the superb execution of the stroke by Kevin Pietersen for England during the recent One Day International against New Zealand, MCC had already acknowledged its existence in the 2000 Laws of Cricket - Law 36.3 - relating to the stance of a batsman.

"Law 36.3 defines the off side of the striker’s wicket as being determined by the striker’s stance at the moment the bowler starts his run-up. MCC accepts that the use of a 'switch-hit' may have implications for other Laws of the game, principally Law 25 (Wide ball) and Law 36 (LBW), and will continue to research and discuss these implications."

The statement added: "MCC believes that the 'switch-hit' stroke is a difficult shot to execute and that it incurs a great deal of risk for the batsman. It also offers bowlers a good chance of taking a wicket and therefore MCC believes that the shot is fair to both batsman and bowler.

"Furthermore, MCC acknowledges that while bowlers must inform umpires and batsmen of their mode of delivery (Law 24), they do not provide a warning of the type of delivery that they will send down (for example, an off-cutter or a slower ball).

"It therefore concludes that the batsman should have the opportunity – should they wish – of executing the 'switch-hit' stroke."

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