The breathtaking finish to the World T20 was an assault that, much as Ben Stokes would like to erase it from his memory, no one who saw will ever forget. Carlos Brathwaite‘s four mammoth consecutive sixes to win the world title in the final over was an incredible achievement and a reflection of West Indies’ approach to T20 cricket. Where other teams studiously tried to avoid dot balls, West Indies considered them irrelevant and negated their supposed deleterious effect by regularly drilling the ball over the boundary.
If, as tends to happen in sport, this leads to other teams following West Indies’ T20 example, there will be an even bigger explosion in six-hitting. The increase in the rate of sixes in the Super 10 stage of the last two tournaments is marked; in 2016 they occurred every 21 balls compared with every 24 in 2014, which equates to virtually an extra six every innings.
It’s worth contrasting Brathwaite’s crunching climax with other moments of drama and high tension during the tournament. These included Bangladesh’s last-over meltdown against India and Virat Kohli‘s skilful and daring pursuit of Australia’s challenging target in a must-win game.
The first one was a rarity because it involved a bowler – Hardik Pandya – prevailing in a final-over death-or-glory shootout. The latter effort was a brilliant combination of deft placement and amazing athleticism. The daring running between the wickets of Kohli and MS Dhoni was every bit as exciting as the former’s ability to find the boundary with the accuracy of a theodolite.
Kohli’s innings was breathtaking, but it was also a wonderful example of everything that is good about batting; he was artistic and his athleticism challenged the opposition’s fielding skills.
The dramatic contrast between this prolonged, spell-binding innings and Brathwaite’s brutal but swift dismantling of Stokes provides necessary light and shade to the T20 game. If the players and administrators fall head over heels in love with six-hitting, the game will become a flat-bat, bouncing-ball version of baseball in the 1990s.
Kohli’s innings was a wonderful example of everything that is good about batting; he was artistic and his athleticism challenged the opposition’s fielding skills
Throughout that era, the American game worshipped at the home-run altar (baseball’s equivalent of cricket’s six) during a period when performance-enhancing drugs (PED) dominated the scene. Partly as a result of PED, baseball became power oriented rather than what it should be – a contest involving strategic hitting, crafty pitching, good defence and speed.
Baseball has since cleaned up its act and is returning to more of the all-round contest it was designed to be. There’s another aspect of baseball that’s worth noting when considering T20’s future – the boundaries. In baseball these can be adjusted to keep the contest between hitter and pitcher fairly even.
There has been a tendency – hard to fathom in an era of improved bats – to bring in the boundary ropes in cricket, especially in the T20 version. It is often done under the guise of player safety – so they don’t get injured crashing into the fence – which doesn’t add up when advertising signs, large speakers and cameras and tripods litter the space just beyond the rope.
I often wonder if the reduction in boundaries has more to do with increasing the number of sixes in order to titillate the fans rather than any major concern for player safety.
It’s interesting that baseball – where players are much more richly rewarded than even the highest-paid IPL cricketers – feels comfortable with a five-metre-wide warning track to indicate to outfielders that the home-run fence is looming.
I’d like to see international cricket return to boundary fences in order to even up the contest between bat and ball. Players would quickly adapt to the change from boundary ropes and it would mean all sixes are of the genuine variety.
Many cricketers, especially when it comes to power-hitting and fielding, have adopted some of baseball’s techniques. It wouldn’t do the administrators any harm to also take note of some of baseball’s smarter moves.
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist