It’s 2000, Nairobi in Kenya, and Sachin Tendulkar is waiting for Glenn McGrath to release the ball. He then charges out in his characteristic way: the front leg stepping across towards off, and using it as a springboard to propel himself further forward. Now one more decision awaits.
If the ball is shortish, he has to flat-bat it up and over in the arc from long-on to long-off. If it’s still full-length, then try to go for the vertical-bat wallop to the straight boundary. Always in the V. It’s a predetermined shot but Tendulkar tries to delay his charge as much as possible to camouflage his charge from the bowler.
That nuance is missing from the charge made by Rohit Sharma or Virat Kohli. Rohit rushes out, often in hope, not really waiting for the bowler to release the ball, and unsurprisingly finds himself in trouble. Sometimes, he heaves to the onside, his shape pear-shaped. Sometimes the charge is delayed too much, like Kohli would do against the Mumbai Indians’s left-handed Jason Behrendorff, and taking too short a stride and finding himself in panic zone, especially with the left-armer’s angle across him. He ended up swiping across, and unsurprisingly lost shape and lost his wicket.
Kohli doesn’t like to rush down the track to the spinners. The reason for the stat that played out during the last Test series against Australia – where he was dismissed stumped for the first time – is because of that reluctance. It isn’t due to superior skill.
But against the seamers, when he doesn’t fear getting stumped, Kohli does run out of his crease. It is one of the reasons for his higher strike-rate in Powerplays this year. As it happened the other night, Kohli can lose his touch and try swiping across to the on side. Not as perfect as Tendulkar. Not many are.
It was some sight in the early 90s when a teenaged Tendulkar suddenly started to rush down to the seamers when he began to open in New Zealand. Cricket arenas that gleamed like silver-tipped bowls were too small to stop this little big man. It’s not that Tendulkar was even the first opener to charge out; New Zealand’s Mark Greatbatch made it his calling card in the 1992 World Cup.
At no.3, Dean Jones was one of the earlier chargers in the 80s, zinc cream framing his eyes and imperiousness oozing from his visceral attacks. In the 90s, post Tendulkar, Nathan Astle would often rush out and in the decade that followed his countryman Brendon McCullum would binge on it.
McCullum’s charge seems to be the prototype for the modern-day batsmen. McCullum’s feet moved so rapidly and adrenaline pumped through his blood so much that he didn’t always care for the bowler’s release and all that nuance. There was a joyous abandonment in his approach, not always successful like in that 2015 World Cup final at MCG when he rushed out in the first over to lose his stumps and the game.
The batsmen of this age seem to want to do a McCullum more than Tendulkar, rushing out without undue care. But McCullum was such a rapid mover and his hand-eye coordination was so supreme at his pomp that he was more successful than most. A Rohit or a Kohli aren’t dashers in that sense of the word, and their strides aren’t a blur like McCullum’s was. And at times, when they try to delay the charge, they don’t get that much forward or stay in balance, or able to go across the line as effectively as McCullum.
There was a six that the 80s generation might remember. Raman Lamba, a feisty batsman who faced a tragic end, dying after a ball struck his head at short-leg in Bangladesh. He moved down the track to a pacer to hit a six over extra-cover; both the charge and the destination felt pretty unique then.
And when an aging Greatbatch reinvented himself as a new-ball dasher in the 1992 World Cup, or when visuals of Dean Jones’s bossy sashays of 80s came in, both were adored. There is something in that shot that screamed arrogant insouciance, boss-level skills, and soon the Tony Griegs of the broadcasting world would start screaming: ‘Take that’. A take down of pacers seemed seldom sweeter than this.
The charge down the wicket is a tad ‘easier’ to pull off against bowlers who generally hit a consistent length. Like Josh Hazlewood, who often finds the batsmen coming down at him in the IPL. Like Tendulkar vs McGrath. In Nairobi, as he has said before, if he had allowed McGrath to do his thing, he would have either gone for a miserly spell or worse, picked a bunch of wickets with his Uncle Scrooge act. And so Tendulkar did what he did.
He also mixed it up as well. He would retreat well behind the crease in between, and do it as unobtrusively and late as possible to avoid an alert fielder to pass the message to McGrath. And as he hoped, that ball would be short, and Tendulkar would swivel into his pull. Like he did to South Africa’s Makhaya Ntini during his masterful 97 on a bouncing seaming track at Belfast, one of his peachy-good ODI knocks of his career.
Like a forehand
Tendulkar’s charging technique in Nairobi to McGrath (one flew for a six, and the other blurred across for a four) was like a forehand down the line, if you will. When he was down the pitch, he would get his bat a bit more horizontal that allowed him control and smash the rising ball that much better. Even though he jumped out as late as possible, Tendulkar was rapid enough to meet the ball as it rose after landing.
Last September, at a Road Safety game for veterans, Tendulkar entered YouTube again with a charge-and-smash off Chris Tremlett. It flew over long-on, then.
When the ball kicks up from short of length and a batsman isn’t up to the pitch, he can flex his wrist to ride the bounce and go across the line like a tennis forehand cross court.But if he chooses to go with the line of the outside-off ball, over long-off, it’s difficult to ride the bounce. That’s why Tendulkar would smartly tilt his bat a touch more horizontally to whack the ball on its head, rather than come down and up like a Rohit Sharma or Kohli (barring that incredible shot off Haris Rauf at MCG).
Sharma used to be better with his forays but of late, there seems to be more hope than conviction. He abandons the crease a tad early, perhaps confident that he can adjust and tonk whatever the course-correction the bowler does, but it hasn’t always worked out that way. And MS Dhoni exploited that desperation by moving up to the stumps, forcing a Razzy-award winner of an awkward lap shot from Rohit. Kohli has been more successful this year, but has had his share of misses. Perhaps, a rewatching of Tendulkar vs McGrath videos would help.
The walkers and the in-betweener
Not all batsmen preferred the manic dash. Some like Aravinda de Silva, as he would dole out to Terry Alderman in his epic 167 in 1989 in Australia, would walk down the track and whip. So did the tall Ravi Shastri who would run out to spinners, and occasionally walk down to the pacers. If Tendulkar would move towards off before catapulting himself down the line, Shastri would do the other way: the back leg dragging him to the on side, as if he were walking on stilts.
Matthew Hayden turned the walk to an act of imperious statement. He would walk down not to whip or punch, but to wallop a pacer. Around 15 years ago, at an outdoors cafe at a hotel in Bangalore, he spoke about that shot. Scratch that, that feeling.
“There is a tremendous adrenaline rush when you walk down the track. It’s really throwing out a challenge to them (bowlers): ‘I know you’re bowling really well here, but I am not going to let you’. When I walk down, I just think: ‘I just want to see the ball, and wherever they bowl, I hit it there’ (Laughs). I do it when the bowlers settle into a pattern of play where you think they are bowling very well. Walking down is a good way to unsettle play.”
The most unlikely walker down the track was South Africa’s Gary Kirsten. With him, it wasn’t adrenalin that one sensed but cricketing smarts. Here was a batsman shorn of big-hitting power, but who used that walk to position himself expertly, hold his shape, and work the ball up and over the on side.
“You needed to find a way to get the ball to the boundary in one-day cricket. So, it was like a release shot that I felt was fairly low risk. But that certainly did help me get the ball to the boundary when I was under pressure. So yes, it was something that I developed in my game that was really helpful to me,” he had told this newspaper last year.
Ganguly would do an in-between version of run-and-walk. And scythe the ball through square on the off. Kirsten’s felt risk-free, Ganguly’s oozed intent, Hayden’s was unadulterated bossiness, Tendulkar’s was a skilful-thrill.