How has power hitting changed the game where players break for lunch and tea in between the match? Also, how are the demands of power hitting affecting the players themselves?
The new buzz words in cricket seem bizarre at first glance: ‘Core strength’, ‘bat speed’, ‘upper body rotational power’, ‘hitting zone’ ‘firm base’, etc. They’ve almost wiped out the old lexicon which were the essence of the game: ‘timing’, ‘straight bat’, ‘left elbow pointing to the sky’, ‘side-on’, ‘bat and pad close together’ ‘loose bottom hand’ etc.
Just when you dismiss this modern glossary as having no relevance to the game there appears an entirely new set of cricketers who look not like David Boon or EAS Prasanna or Inzamam-ul Haqs of the past, but like some super athletes straight out of the Olympic Games.
Indian skipper Virat Kohli, for instance, has a body-fat ratio of 9, which is sensational for a cricketer. However, he is working incredibly hard to pare it down to 7.5, similar to that of tennis super star Novak Djokovic!
The impact that this sort of fitness makes on the game is nothing short of revolutionary. Kohli, for example, hardly seems fatigued or tired even after running like the hare and batting explosively for a hundred runs even in peak summer heat. Why, during the course of his momentous double hundred against Bangladesh in Hyderabad he did not even raise a sweat!
It is not just fitness that modern day players are striving for. They want power to go along with it and the route to this is often studded with blood, sweat and tears. Tragically, illegally, sometimes this result is also arrived at with the aid of steroids and bulk-building drugs.
Before we dwell on these, it would help to find out what modern cricketers seek in their quest for excellence.
Talent, of course, is a given. But along with hand-eye coordination they want power. For power, alongside timing, is absolutely crucial for adding distance to shots in ODIs and T20 matches. Carlos Brathwaite’s plundering of sixes in the World T20 Championship final against England is a case in point. He repeatedly hit the ball with almighty power so that even a mis-hit would carry the ball over the fence. That sort of explosive power is rare but has become central to T20 batting of late.
Batsmen, much like golfers, baseball sluggers and tennis players desperately seek that trunk rotational or upper body rotational power to aid big hitting. They need to explosively pivot their hips, midsection and shoulders to lend beef to the shot. Thus, whether it is an almighty heave over long-off or to the leg over mid-wicket batsmen seek to explosively twist their trunk so that an imaginary belt-buckle faces the umpire or even long on. The quick, powerful twist adds rotational force and increases bat speed.
Are we talking cricket? Yes, yes! It is just that with T20 cricket the game has changed substantially even as core elements remain the same.
Batsmen are now trained to identify their hitting zone and work excessively in two or three of these areas. The work includes adding beef to the shoulders and ensuring they make good contact when attempting the shot. The bat speed at the point of impact is critical to take the ball out of the park and with some velocity.
The force is generated from the ground and transferred onto the upper body and arms via the legs; thus the work-outs to strengthen the base. Alongside, it must also be mentioned that batsmen’s stance these days have become wider in a quest to provide that stability.
Trigger moments in T20 cricket are a marginally forward push. Pull shots to bouncers are in front of the wicket. Otherwise, with the ball not swinging or seaming excessively batsmen attempt to muscle the shots through their preferred hitting zones.
It is no secret that modern, young cricketers spend as much time in the gym as they do in the nets. They opt for power training in a bid to develop all those various muscles and parts of the body required for power hitting.
Certainly T20 cricket is a major reason why there is so much of emphasis on power and super fitness. The best and most sought-after T20 cricketers worldwide are those with a certain physique that enables this power hitting and athletic fielding.
Franchises want these athletic, fearless, power hitters who could tilt the balance in a match in an over or two.
Unfortunately some of the cricketers use steroids to build muscle and stay fit and this is where World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) steps in.
The latest big cricketer to be snared by it is the West Indian super star Andre Russel, one of the most popular cricketers in T20 cricket. Here, mention must be made that Russel is not guilty of taking steroids or any other drug. He failed what WADA refers to as “whereabouts clause” and thus had to pay the price.
Sportsmen, including cricketers, are expected to reveal their ‘whereabouts’ even during off season. They are expected to make themselves available for surprise drug tests between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. during this period. Not making themselves available on three successive occasions in a year would be interpreted as a failed test and invite a one-year ban from competition.
Russel’s lawyer is reported to have stated that his client is “clean” and innocent. He said he would appeal against the ban.
The point here is not Russel’s offence or otherwise. Cricket has changed so drastically that some of those engaged with it believe that players are drifting towards substance-abuse in an effort to build their body and give themselves a chance to make a powerful impact.
This is a far cry from the days when those with the body shape, fitness and agility of GR Vishwanath, Bishen Bedi, BS Chandrasekhar, Arjuna Ranatunga, et al played the game.
Now T20 and indeed international cricket is flush with super athletes, Kohli, AB de Villiers, Russel, MS Dhoni, Keiron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, David Miller, David Warner, among others.
Indeed power is the name of the modern game. Is it therefore cricket on steroids? No, not yet. But the game is sadly heading that way. And fast!