Switch-hit will add to the fun of cricket (Commentary)

June 21st, 2008 - 11:06 am ICT by IANS  

By K. Datta
There is no law in cricket that prohibits the switch-hit, as the stroke with which Kevin Pietersen hit two sixes in England ODI victory over New Zealand at Chester-le-Street Sunday has come to be known. So why were law makers at the Marylebone Cricket Club called upon to take a view on the matter of Pietersen changing his grip from right-handed to left to lift Scott Styris over the boundary? Now that Tuesday’s meeting, which was attended by club secretary Keith Bradshaw and John Stephenson, the club’s head of cricket, has given it a clean chit, Pietersen will be delighted that his innovative stroke has received the all clear from the good old MCC. But why question the batsman’s right to innovation, in the first place?.

To suddenly switch stance and grip from right-hand to left is a manoeuvre not all batsmen are capable of. To hit a bowler for two sixes after the change of grip is a stroke only an extraordinary batsman can play. It is as exciting as it is risky. Coming to think of it, rather than question the legitimacy of the stroke bowlers should only welcome it. The risk incurred by the batsman provides the bowler with the opportunity of taking a wicket. MCC only did the expected thing in deciding that the shot is fair to both batsman and bowler.

No law requires the batsman to give advance notice of the type of stroke he will play, just as no fast bowler is required to tell you if and when he chooses to bowl a well disguised slow one. No off-spinner is expected to inform the batsman when he will next send down a “doosra”. Neither is a leg-spinner obliged to seek the batsman’s or umpire’s permission before bowling a googly.

Cricket is always evolving and this particular shot of Pietersen is something special to the game. One or two laws of the game may require to be reviewed. Like the one which lays down that a batsman cannot be adjudged leg before if the ball pitches outside the leg stump, or the law on wides. But let that not come in the way of batsmen making shots like the “switch hits” Pietersen has made.

Pietersen, who already has established himself as a batsman of the highest order in both versions of the game, long and short, will doubtless encourage other batsmen to follow in his innovative footsteps. I can see at least a few of our own Indian batsmen doing that.

Ambidextrousness is nothing new to other sports. For example, you have soccer players who can dribble and kick a football with equal felicity with both feet, though one has known of many who are only one-foot kickers. No takers of penalty kicks, or any other free kicks at goal, are expected to inform the referee or the defending goalkeeper with which foot they will make the shot.

But in this bat and ball game of cricket the audacity of Pietersen’s innovation is insolently challenging. You have to be in Styris’ shoes to realise how it feels to be knocked over the boundary by a batsman who suddenly makes a 90 degree swing, changing grip and weight from one leg to the other in one dextrous and daring movement. Pietersen has thrown a challenge at the bowlers. In times when cricket is becoming more and more entertaining it is now up to them to curb the dare-devilry. It will add to the fun of the game.

(The writer is a veteran journalist and he can be reached at dattak@rediffmail.com)

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