In the World Cup finals against Sri Lanka, I vividly remember Sachin delaying the square-cut by allowing Nuwan Kulasekra's short-pitched delivery to go past him before making contact. Result-a well placed, well timed boundary on the left of the fielder standing at point while beating the man at third-man. To cover that particular stroke, the point fielder went a lot finer, but this time Sachin decided to play the same delivery a fraction earlier to find the gap on the right of the fielder at point, resulting in another inevitable boundary. Now Sangakarra brought the cover fielder a lot squarer to plug that gap, unfortunately though to no avail. Sachin, this time, went a bit more across towards the off-stump to play the almost identical delivery with a straight bat to maximize the gap created by moving the fielders squarer, producing, yet again, a third meticulously executed boundary.
Formats changed but Sachin continued to bat in the same vein. This time he dished out similar treatment to Vinay Kumar and Perera in the game against Kochi at Wankhede. Yes, he did improvise a bit more to maintain a healthy run-rate but his batting, mostly, was bereft of any slogging. Similarly, Kallis' knock against the Deccan Chargers at the Eden Gardens was a good lesson in how to read the wicket and adjust your game accordingly.
The track had low bounce and no pace. Kallis, thus, didn't shy away from having a long forward stride to hit the likes of Steyn and Ishant off the front-foot with a straight bat. He refrained from hitting the horizontal bat shots even to the balls pitched relatively short. And when it came to playing spinners, he used his hands beautifully to place the turning ball into the gaps.
Both these men are in sublime form and hence one might argue that it was relatively easier for them to shift gears. But their batting has a lot more to it than just being 'in-form'. Yes, when in-form, picking up the right line and length is a lot earlier and hence one automatically gets into the right positions to execute the shot. Still, the selection of shots determines your technical prowess or the lack of it.
While certain players, especially in the shortest format, prefer a reverse sweep or a 'Dilscoop' when they're sighting the ball well, men like Kallis and Sachin would not go too far away from their technically solid base. Sachin's straight-drive off Mithun comes to mind straight away. Even when Mithun shortened the length slightly in order to make amends, Sachin went across the stumps and deep inside the crease to send it for another four towards the square-leg.
While both Sachin and Kallis are seasoned campaigners and are well equipped to change gears without compromising their technical base, it's heartening to see a lot of young Indian recruits following their steps. Paul Valthaty, the revelation of this IPL, may be a T20 specialist but the way he played against Chennai Super Kings showed that he too stuck to the basics. Ambati Rayudu, another consistent Indian batsman, also relied heavily on having a strong foundation. In any case, maintaining a solid base while executing big shots is a must.
While developing new strokes like the 'switch-hit' or 'Dilscoop' and execution of unconventional strokes like the 'reverse sweep' is extremely tempting and somewhat rewarding too, players who're sticking to the more traditional way of batting seem to be reaping equal rewards, if not more. Kallis and Tendulkar have once again showed that there's a lot more scope for improvisation if the foundation is strong. And also reiterated the fact that technique doesn't slow you down, in fact it empowers you to play more than one kind of stroke on the same delivery.