Blood, Sweat and Leaves in the Age of the Big Hits

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How Cheteshwar Pujara, Alastair Cook, and Nick Gubbins are Leading an Old-Fashioned Revolution

T20 cricket has revolutionised cricket in much the same way as Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket did in 1977 or WG Grace did back in the distant mists of history.

From fielding to bowling to advertising and even to cheerleaders, the long reach of the game’s newest format can be felt far and wide and into both the longest form and into the one day fare it is quickly turning into a sideshow.

The biggest impact it has had though has undoubtedly been on batting. Strike rates have soared, records are smashed at will and no total is ever truly safe even when the chasing side are nine wickets down.

This often makes for thrilling, breathless cricket and new adjectives are having to be invented to adequately describe the exploits of the likes of AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle and Virat Kohli.

Once the central tenants of batting revolved around respecting the bowling, punishing the loose balls and putting a heavy price on your wicket. Now innovation, clean striking and being able to hit the ball through 360 degrees are king.

And yet, all the razzmatazz and the bombastic cricket can get rather samey. Variety after all is the spice of life. The monotony of hit-a-thon after hit-a-thon dulls the senses and the art of quality bowling becomes reduced to a diminishing minority.

How wondrous it was then to see a classically old-fashioned knock on the first day of the second Test between India and New Zealand.

Having won the toss India batted first on a rather green Eden Gardens track. They promptly lost their first wicket for one and in strode Cheteshwar Pujara – the man who would be India’s second great “Wall”.

At 28 years of age and with 36 Test matches to his name Pujara should be in his prime batting years. However his recent career has been dominated by talk of his slow strike-rate. He was dropped during the recent West Indies tour for the faster-scoring Rohit Sharma and the Indian captain Virat Kohli admitted that he had spoken to him about the need to speed up.

Related: The Fluctuating Career of Cheteshwar Pujara

India quickly found themselves three down for less than 50. Pujara remained though, resolute and determined. Soaking up the pressure alongside Ajinkya Rahane, he grafted, left well and dug deep so that when he was dismissed for 87 India were firmly in the driving seat. A position they did not give up as they sauntered to victory within four days.

His 87 came off 219 balls and included 184 dot-balls – 84% of the balls bowled at him. Each leave, each forward defensive shot, each time he put the voices of the naysayers to one side he demonstrated the value of prizing your wicket above all.

Pujara is by no means alone in this regard either. The grafters are again on the rise.

Alastair Cook’s defence and temperament have been the twin rocks on which he has built his career. A career which sees him as the top Test run-scorer amongst active batsman and with designs on toppling Sachin Tendulkar before he is done. Yet no-one would begrudge him his place among the very best on the international scene. He will never draw  in the crowds like a de Villiers or Gayle but his is an invaluable act on the international scene.

Further down too there are new graduates from the school of graft emerging onto the scene.

Middlesex’s first County Championship title in 23 years was won mainly off Nick Gubbins’ broad bat. His runs – 1409 at 61.26 – were absolutely vital but it was the manner and the situations in which he made them which makes him stand out as an exceptional young talent. In his first full season and with the Championship on the line in the final match against Yorkshire he faced just shy of 500 balls to set a platform from which Middlesex could dream. International honours will surely come soon.

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Not as soon as it will for another in the same mould though. The 19-year-old Haseeb Hameed will partner Cook at the top of the order as England tour Bangladesh and India this winter. Although he has developed his range of strokes his main currency remains time spent out in the middle. He refers to himself as “a modern-day Boycott.” A point succinctly made even if it is an interesting point of reference for the Bolton-born Lancastrian.

It would be overstating the case to suggest the few grafters still active in the game will ever find themselves in the majority. The popularity of T20 cricket and ICC regulations which unnecessarily penalise bowlers will ensure that the future of batting will be faster and more explosive than ever.

But for now at least it is good to see that many in the game abide by the Anil Kumble saying that “strike rates are relevant only for bowlers in Test matches.” Graft, sweat and exaggerated leaves in the of age of the wham, bang, wallop. Yes please.

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