In the early 2000s the Indian cricket team had some of the most aggressive, imposing and unorthodox batsmen in the world. They had the ability to shut down opposition attacks with their defensive efforts or just as easily turn the tide on with their stroke-play.
Players like Sachin Tendulkar, V.V.S Laxman and Virender Sehwag turned the game on its head. Their style and technique have been copied throughout the world and can be seen in the style of current players.
The game has shifted to scoring runs at a faster pace, and modern players have adopted ‘unconventional’ techniques that place a priority on scoring runs rather than looking good.
These techniques has been evident in subcontinental cricket for years, but now has found a way into the arsenal of Test stars from England, South Africa and Australia. The Indian players who most embodies these traits are Virat Kohli, who has a straight drive that screams of Tendulkar, and Ravindra Jadeja, whose late cut invokes flashbacks of Laxman’s languid style.
AB de Villiers has always impressed with his natural ability on the international stage, but he did not reach his full potential until undergoing a technical shift in 2007. De Villiers strayed from the traditional path of dominating steps to the pitch of the ball, or a large shuffling back and across to play cross-bat shots. He adopted his box method.
The primary function of the box method is keeping his head, bat and body in a two-foot square box at the crease. Former Australian cricketer, Mike Haysman, explained the benefit of this method to Super Sport.
“His footwork is minimal, his strides either back or forward are always controlled and, importantly because the end result ensures good shape, he has power and timing to burn,” Haysman said.
“AB’s secret is that his head position is in such a positive space that he has so much time to play.”
The minimalistic footwork, balance and bat swing brings Sachin Tendulkar to mind. Tendulkar was a player who seemed to have an age to hit the ball and was rarely seen unbalanced or unable to find the middle of the bat.
When Australian captain Steve Smith entered the international scene his technique was picked apart – his grip, mechanical stance and affinity to play square through the offside had coaches and commentators saying he would not be able to perform at the international level.
Another player who possessed a strong bottom hand grip and almost gleeful will to play shots square of the wicket through the offside was Virender Sehwag, who averaged 49.34 in the Test arena.
Sehwag tormented opening bowlers by lashing them through extra cover, right in front of a wide-eyed slip cordon. While Smith does not replicate the devastating effect on opening bowlers, there are still many technical similarities.
Smith’s strong bottom hand grip allows him to play balls across the line and gives him greater power when driving the ball straight down the ground – a signature of Sehwag’s play.
Smith’s boyhood coach, Trent Woodhill, told Cricinfo that one of Smith’s greatest skills was to persist with his technique through adversity.
“Their technique is shaped through repetition, over and over the same way,” Woodhill said.
“Each player has his own unique way, basically Steven Smith is doing that as good as anyone in the game currently.”
Smith’s Ashes adversary, Joe Root, is another player that has been influenced by subcontinental technique.
Root has dispelled the stereotypes of English batsmen pressing and playing straight down the ground with his frenetic foot movement. Unlike English batsmen of yesteryear, Root looks to play off the back foot rather than the front.
Indian great, V.V.S Laxman, displayed the same trait to great effect throughout his career. Both Root and Laxman play the ball extremely late off the back foot, allowing them to score 360 degrees around the ground. There is no surprise that this success has been able to translate from the bouncy pitches in Australia to the slow burners in India for both batsmen.
Former England star and current coach, Graham Thorpe, told All Out Cricket this was pivotal to Root’s success.
“He’s always been a strong back-foot player and uses the depth of the crease well to defend, drive off the back foot and pull, which is a shot that looks better every time he plays it,” Thorpe explained.
“I’m a big believer that the stronger you are against the rising ball – i.e. your back-foot play – that you will be a good front-foot player too, because you won’t be bothered by the short ball or it rising at you and can spring forward.”
Just like coloured clothes, cricket under lights and the limited-overs revolution, techniques and styles are changing and adapting throughout the modern game.
There has been a significant influence from subcontiental cricket styles and techniques – and as the game continues to grow, so should this trend.