A reporter from an overseas newspaper called me up hours after Chris Gayle’s whirlwind unbeaten 175 against Pune Warriors the other day.
“You think anybody can better the performance this century?" he asked.
“Unlikely, though it could be broken this season itself. I am not being facetious", I replied.
In the slam- bang, dhoom- dhadaka of T20 cricket, what’s real is surreal and viceversa.
A 30- ball century and a sum total of 66 balls for 175 boggles the imagination. Add to this 17 sixes and it begs the question: is anything impossible in this format? One can speculate that Gayle scoring 175 is one of those bizarre occurrences made possible by the confluence of many factors like a flat pitch, poor bowling, a de- motivated opposition and dollops of luck.
But if you map the trend, it become clear that benchmarks in T20 – especially where batting is concerned – are being redefined rapidly. Gayle himself thinks 200 by a batsman is possible, as he wrote in a signed piece recently.
Even if one tones down his exhilaration drastically, scores of 175- plus by teams could become par for the course going ahead in the IPL — way beyond the 150- 155 that it is now.
Not much will change where the boundary- distances are concerned, and pitches will be important factors in team scores, but what is beginning to make a big difference is the risk taking appetite of batsmen.
Since the number of overs is so few, a dot ball is anathema to T20 and a six hit off every delivery is the most desired. Hitting in the old days would invite censure from the coach, perhaps even ouster from the team. But batsmen who can’t loft the ball and clear the field are dodos and invite similar rebuke.
Where batsmen are not brawny and lack the power for sustained hitting like Gayle, they are compelled to get more creative which has become evident in the Dilshan- Scoop, the reverse-pull by A. B. de Villiers and Steve Smith, and what have you.
The impact on orthodox technique and the effect such devil- may- care approach may have on the longer formats is some- thing that concerns purists. Most have condemned T20 for messing up the ‘fundamentals’ of the game, but the jury is still out on this.
It is worthwhile remembering that Gayle, for all his pyrotechnics in T20, has also hit two Test triple centuries. Indeed, Test triples have become more frequent since the first T20 match was plaved ( 2003). Also, more Test matches have been won or lost, which should mitigate the fear that bowlers are being eclipsed.
In the T20 format, of course, bowlers come off second best at least where money- earning is concerned.
Gayle, for instance, is now a cult figure, comparable to Tendulkar and Dhoni in India and anybody else elsewhere. If he does not command the most price in the IPL now, doubtless he will be chased by megabucks next season when all the players are up for auction.
But while financial rewards chasing talent is the best example of free market economics at play, this is also where Test cricket faces the bigger threat from leagues like the IPL, Big Bash et al.
Like former Australian captain Mark Taylor said, why would young players strive for a Test cap if they are already paid a million dollars or some such by the leagues — sometimes even for not lifting a bat, as has happened with Glen Maxwell and Kane Richardson? Or take the example of Shane Watson, who has decided he won’t bowl for Australia but doesn’t mind turning his arm over for Rajasthan Royals. This is the kind of conflict that cricket establishments would take umbrage at.
More players are earning a livelihood, more are getting the opportunity for their talent to be showcased. In a case like the West Indies, it would be fair to say that the IPL ( and the Big Bash) have not only benefited players monetarily, but also revived cricket in the Caribbean.
How to retain the primacy of Tests from the onslaught of T20 and the privatization of cricket remains the vexing issue. Partly, I believe this must come from paying Test cricketers handsomely, but even more from positioning the longer format as the best and most desirable.
It would be mot juste if the richest cricket body in the world took the onus for this on itself.