Batsmen in shining armour
Tony Becca, Contributing Editor
The West Indies went through a rough time in South Africa recently. At the end of the three-match Test series, the count was two defeats and one draw, and the draw, more or less, was because of rain in Port Elizabeth.
At the end of the one-day series, it was 4-1.
While batting, good, solid batting, has been the weakness, or one of the weaknesses of the West Indies team in recent years, the batting elsewhere across the globe has been blooming and flowering, and beautifully at that.
In fact, recently it has been so good, in such abundance and so attractive, that it promises unending excitement for a long time to come.
Old-time people used to talk glowingly and lyrically of the days of batsmen like Victor Trumper, Jack Hobbs, Herbert Sutcliffe, and Frank Woolley, Wally Hammond, Don Bradman, George Headley, and Stan McCabe, Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, and Clyde Walcott, Neil Harvey, Peter May, Denis Compton, and Tom Graveney, Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards, Gary Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, and Doug Walters.
And up to quite recently, all the talk surrounded the class and the quality of batsmen such as Sunil Gavaskar, Majid Khan, Greg Chappell, Lawrence Rowe, Alvin Kallicharran, Viv Richards, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, and VVS Laxman.
Today, the talk of the town, of everybody from everywhere, is the presence of an army of exciting batsmen, some of them very young, which has sprung up around the world promising hours of excitement for the fans and days of hell for the unfortunate bowlers, as good as the likes of Mitchell Johnson, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Ryan Harris, Ishant Sharma, Umar Gul, Tim Southee, Trent, Boult, and even Nathan Lyon or Sunil Narine may be.
There are many of them, but some of these batsmen are better, a little better, than others.
Apart from the likes of Michael Clarke, Ian Bell, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Brendan McCullum, David Warner, Ross Taylor, Chris Gayle, and Marlon Samuels, the batsmen worth going miles to see are the new princes in their shining armours.
BATSMEN OF THE MOMENT
The batsmen of the moment, the ones to see, are from the West Indies and, whenever he is in the mood, Darren Bravo; from England, Joe Root; from Sri Lanka, Dinuth Karunaratne, Lahiru Thirimanne, and Kaushal Silva; from New Zealand, Kane Williamson and Johnny Neesam; from Australia, Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh; and from South Africa are Faf du Plessis and Stiaan Van Zyl.
From Pakistan, Ahmed Shehzad, Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali, plus the more established Mohammed Hafeez; and from India, formerly the land of spinners now the factory of batsmen, come Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwsar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, plus Rohit Sharma, Lokesh Rahul. and Suresh Raina.
And unlike West Indians Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Kraigg Brathwaite, they are not only technically good: they are exciting and attractive batsmen, all of them. It is a pleasure to see them cutting and hooking, and driving off both the back-foot and off the front foot, the front foot going out towards the pitch of the ball, the head leaning forward, and the bat following through sweetly.
With all these brilliant batsmen around, no one really needs the artificial excitement of T20 cricket - the loud music, dancing girls, fireworks, and emotional commentators - except for the money it generates.
In the past few weeks, in Test match contests between Pakistan and New Zealand, Australia and Pakistan, South Africa and the West Indies, and Australia and India, on the pitches of Sharjah, New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia, and against all kinds and quality of bowling, the scores, by most batsmen, excepting West Indians, have not only been many and huge: they have also been fast, very fast.
Amla 208, deVilliers 152, Van Zyl 101 not out, and Du Plessis 103 against the West Indies, Kanuratne 152 against New Zealand; Kane Williamson 192 against Pakistan and 242 not out against Sri Lanka, and Brendon McCullum 202 and 195 against Pakistan.
Warner 145 and 102 in one Test match and 101 against India, Clarke 128 against India, and Smith 97 against Pakistan, 162 not out, 133, 192, and 117 against India, and Murali Vijay 99 and 144, Rahane 81 and 147, and Kohli 115 and 141 in one Test match, and 169 and 147, all against Australia.
In many of those innings, despite the state of the game, the scoring was fast, excitingly fast. Attack was the order of the day.
Williamson, for example, scored his 192 against Pakistan at a good clip, off 242 deliveries. He was slow, however, when compared to McCullum who scored his 202 against Pakistan off 188 deliveries and including 21 fours and 11 sixes, and his 195 off 134 deliveries and which included 18 fours and 11 sixes, to Shafiq, who scored his 137 against New Zealand off 148 deliveries, to Warner 101 off 114 deliveries, and to Misbah-ul-Haq, who raced to a 101 against Australia off a mere 57 deliveries.
Batting, good, quality, attractive batting, West Indian batting or not, comes from batsmen of class and quality, however good the bowling may be, whatever is the condition of the pitch, and whatever is the format of the game.