CHENNAI: When Australia’s Joe Darling deposited England’s Johnny Briggs into the car park outside Adelaide Oval, he became the first cricketer to hit a six in international cricket. The sport, in that form, had been in existence for 21 years since the first Test in March 1877 and it was remarkable the feat took so long to achieve.
The main reason was simple enough. Sixes were only awarded if a batsman succeeded in hitting the ball outside the ground. Five (and sometimes a four) was the norm if the ball had cleared the playing area but failed to clear the stands. A small rule change happened in 1910. Since then, batsmen began to score more sixes. Coloured clothing entered the fray, ropes came in further, bats began to resemble bloated sledge-hammers and the skewed nature of the game was exacerbated further.
Sixes became the single greatest currency in the sport and on-screen graphics reflected that mindset. Every time a batsman cleared the boundary, a six-o-meter would appear, showing the number of maximums. The IPL, too, has that. And this year it has moved forward at greater pace. With 57 matches played, there have been 694 sixes (11.96 per match). One safe conclusion from this year’s edition can be made — batsmen never hit sixes at such a rate in the previous years. The average of 11.96 is the best since the beginning — the next is 11.53 in 2015 that saw 692 hits clearing the fence.
Pravin Amre, a coach who has developed the attacking instincts of cricketers like Robin Uthappa, says approach has played a key role in the increase this year. “The ones who have contributed significantly this year are ones who are very experienced players in the format,” he says to Express. He offers the example of Uthappa, who is the fourth highest six-getter (21) in this edition. “I think the last few years he hit 15 or 16, this year he has already hit more than 20.”
Identifying under-utilised weapons of mass destruction has also played a significant role. He did not pull up any trees in his first three years (2012, 2014 and 2016) but KKR bet big on Chris Lynn this time out after seeing his exploits in the Big Bash League (53 sixes) in the last two years. The net effect has been enormous. A similar experiment with Sunil Narine has also given the team handsome rewards. Even the likes of Delhi Daredevils, not the IPL’s brightest planners, have caught on. Sanju Samson was asked to open this year. Effect? Sixth-highest with 19 sixes. He had managed a combined total of 38 sixes in four editions from 2013-2016.
The T20 batsman is in a state of continuous evolution, forced to swim. The lap, scoop and switch — shots now a staple of any modern hitter — are must have weapons. Uncapped players have also been forced to innovate, as this is now considered a pathway to a better living. “Our youngsters are a lot more confident compared to us,” Virat Kohli said before last year’s T20 World Cup. The IPL was the prime cause of that.
No big guns, no problem
Aakash Chopra, who has seen quite a few of these youngsters grow up thanks to IPL nights, is taken aback when this year’s statistics is put to him.
“If anything, it should have been the other way round. With the likes of Chris Gayle not firing, you would have expected the numbers to plummet this year,” he says to Express.
“Apart from the stars not having the best IPL, a venue like M Chinnaswamy Stadium, a six-hitting ground till 2016, has hardly seen that in 2017.”
Chris Jordan is steaming in at 1.00 am towards Gautam Gambhir’s ribs. Having sent back Uthappa, he thinks the short ball is a good ball. Gambhir tries to hook, but he is early. It takes the top edge and flies beyond the fine leg boundary. The 693rd this year.
One more followed 12 balls later. Another one will come along soon between KKR and Mumbai Indians at the same ground on Friday. And another one. And another one. And another one.