Most would admit that watching A.B. de Villiers switch over and swing an Irfan Pathan full-toss for six behind the wicket-keeper made for a thrilling sight. The bowler – lost for words – could only flash a wry smile as de Villiers deployed the controversial shot several times in his rapid cameo, setting up Royal Challengers Bangalore’s opening win in IPL-2012.
Since Kevin Pietersen premiered the stroke in an ODI against New Zealand in 2008, switch-hitting has been swiftly adopted by batsmen good enough to pull it off. In an environment – across formats - where quick runs are imperative and largely responsible for spectator interest, the shot has seen several successful renditions, none quite as exciting as David Warner’s 100-metre heave at the MCG in a T20I against India earlier in the year.
More recently, the stroke found itself mired in controversy, again. Its originator, Pietersen, was warned for resorting to the switch-hit posture too early, as he swapped his hands/ changed his stance before the bowler – Tillakaratne Dilshan – had begun his delivery stride, in the second Test at the P. Sara Oval.
Pietersen was then in his 90s and his resorting to the off-beat was an attempt to off-set Dilshan’s persistent leg-side line to a packed leg-side field. The Englishman succeeded and his audacious 151 set up a deserved series-equalling win for England, but his repeated recourse to the switch-hitting position – just as the bowler was beginning his run-up – caused Dilshan to pull out of the delivery, a provision provided under the law, twice as he saw the batsman swap his hands prematurely.
Current interpretations of the laws state that a batsman is free to change his grip/ stance once the bowler has hit his delivery stride. If the switching over is done in advance – during the run-up or at any time before the bowler lands his back foot – the bowler is free to pull out of the delivery, which is exactly what Dilshan did.
Leaving aside the scandalous nature of the stroke and the gross violation it causes of the purists’ staunchly Edwardian aesthetic, there are certain points of consideration which cry for debate, now that the shot has been quasi rubber-stamped to ramp-up the sport. Firstly, is it physically possible for an on-field umpire to observe, simultaneously, the batsman’s hands/stance, the bowler’s back foot (i.e. where it lands) and - with a possibly permissible delay of a few nanoseconds - the front-foot no-ball?
Secondly, is it fair to allow batsmen to get away with uninformed switch-hitting when the poor bowler has to pre-inform the umpire about which arm and what side of the wicket he will be delivering from? Would it be more of an equal contest – speaking strictly within the confines of the switch-hitting discussion – to ‘give the leg stump back to the bowler’ – i.e. to award LBW decisions irrespective of where the ball pitches if it would have gone on to hit the stumps, provided the batsman has swapped his stance around? Would this mean empowering the bowler at the expense of the willow wielder who, all said and done, is forever one ball away from being dismissed? And how does one call wides in case of the switching scenario?
Across the spectrum, the genesis of the switch-hit has been favourably received. The reception is a far cry from the storm that the stately Ranji’s leg-side nuances raised when he first displayed them before a stiff and starchy gentry over a century ago. Now, oriental expertise on the on-side is the gold standard against which all leg-side play is measured.
The fate of the switch-hit is likely to come up for discussion in an ICC meeting in May. But really, in a time where cricket faces stern tests from other avenues of entertainment it becomes obligatory for the authorities to lighten up the sport with what seems novel and innovative now but what is likely - as the years roll past - to be homogenised into the great body of this great sport. If only this modernisation had a tiny space within it for the bowler.
To switch or not to switch
Pietersen's controversial switch-hit finds itself in the spotlight again.By Kunal Diwan | Yahoo! Cricket – Sun 8 Apr, 2012 10:51 PM IST
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