The older one gets, the more obvious it becomes – there are many ways to get things wrong, but few ways (if any) to get things right. Cricket – as so often – both illuminates and enriches a life lesson, as a reflection on three batsmen reveals.
I wrote in July of the simplicity of Chris Gayle’s technique – and there’s much about at the moment, on the occasion of his 100th Test of Virender Sehwag’s “see ball, hit ball” mantra. Both openers score quickly – absurdly quickly for those of us who grew up with John Edrich and Geoffrey Boycott carefully compiling about 56 on the first morning of a Test – but neither play an array of shots. They are good to watch in the way that it’s good to watch the most common metaphor used about their play – a fireworks display.
But there’s more that one way to get it right in cricket. Michael Clarke has out-Bradmanned Bradman in crossing 200 four times in Tests in a calendar year. Not for him the stand and deliver style of the Indian centurion or the Jamaican master-blaster – Clarke’s game is based around as purple a patch of shot selection as I can recall. Swiftness of foot to the spinners and liquid movement of body weight across the crease to the quicks gives Clarke an array of options depending on where the ball pitches – sometimes regardless of where the ball pitches. With hand-eye coordination at its peak and crystal clear thinking borne of the confidence of his unchallenged captaincy (and, just maybe, a more stable life off the field), Clarke is delivering huge scores at remarkable strike rates and pleasing purists and fans attracted by T20 alike. It’s difficult to conceive of a more complete Test match batting package than Clarke 2012 (have a look at this sunburst wagon-wheel of his Adelaide knock to see what I mean) and we should enjoy while we can.
Which leads me to another 21st century man who has riled team-mates but whose talent is undoubted – KP. His batting – if one can call it that – in the First Test was not without method, but it felt more like madness. In trying to get to the pitch of the ball to smother the spin and take the LBW out of the equation in a non-DRS match, he looked less like a flamingo bird and more like a flamenco dancer, as short steps and long strides fought for favour and arms went one way and legs the other. He looked more likely to nod the ball with his head than hit it with his bat.
KP needs a bit of Clarke and a bit of Gayle. From Clarke, he should look to the range of stroke and the decisiveness of his movements. From Gayle, he should take the clarity of thinking and the restraint of options. That combination might just fire the KP who would (after the red bull single) play forward defensives and leaves for 45 minutes before introducing drives and pulls and then, well then, going on to just about any shot in the book and plenty that aren’t. He might also remind himself that for all Gayle’s box office and Clarke’s golden spell, his method got him a Test average higher than either of them.
If KP believes in the old KP, the old KP will be back – left-arm spin or not.