Cricket has always been a game which has always had a lot of tradition involved in it. And with tradition, there have been a fair share of orthodox playing techniques which are still successful and adopted by a majority of players. But then what is any sport without a hint of variety? This variety in the different playing styles is what makes each and every sport more watchable. We bring you a list of 5 batsmen who have been very successful despite their unorthodox techniques.
Talk about the unorthodox batsmen and it’s impossible to not mention Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the former West Indian captain and middle order batsman. One of the greatest West Indian batsman of all time, perhaps behind only Brian Lara and Viv Richards, he was the lynchpin of the West Indian batting order after Brian Lara retired. What made him unorthodox was his unique stance wherein he would stand with his shoulders squared and facing the square leg umpire. The stance has often been described as ugly or “crabby” like the crabs found on beaches by commentators all over the world. However, if anything, it is Chanderpaul’s temperament that is crab-like. Once he gets his eye in, it’s impossible to dismiss him. Cricket experts argue that such a wide stance would leave him impervious to the late movement of the ball. They forget that he has been coached by the West Indian great Rohan Kanhai, a batsman so great that Sunil Gavaskar named his son after him. Additionally, the pronounced shuffle he makes once the ball has been released to get into the conventional batsman’s position should have opened him up to LBWs and being bowled around the legs. Instead for 20 years, Chanderpaul manage to confound his critics with his impressive record of over 20,000 runs in tests and ODIs. The longevity of his career and his effectiveness have been proven time and again, from the spin-friendly tracks in the Indian subcontinent to the fast bowlers’ paradise in England and Australia to opening the innings or coming at 7 down in the batting order.
2. Brian Lara
Often said to be the greatest player in the history, along with Sachin Tendulkar and Don Bradman, Brian Charles Lara had a bewildering feature in his batting that made his success as a batsman more astounding. In an era of heavy bats, Brian Lara’s exceptionally high back lift should have made him vulnerable to full length deliveries especially yorkers as well to variations in pace from fast bowlers. Lara used to hunch over the crease, yet be immaculately balanced, would raise his bat all the way above his head and smack the ball all over the park.
According to sports scientists, a batsman has a little under 600 milliseconds to react to a 135 kmph delivery and the human mind takes 200 milliseconds to react. Yet, Lara not only judged the line and length of the ball to perfection but also the managed to precisely time his shots. From Shoaib Akhtar to Brett Lee, Lara faced the who’s who of fast bowling and conquered them all despite the apparent “flaw” in his batting. Clearly some batsmen are a cut above the rest.
3. Mahendra Singh Dhoni
For a batsman who averages well over 50 in ODIs, MS Dhoni has been criticised for his technique or rather, lack of it. His batting style is an unorthodox mix of raw power, grit and improvisation. The famous “helicopter” shot is a good example of this.
Generating power from his wrists, the helicopter shot which is anything but a mishit to the fielder, has become a Dhoni special that crowds all over the world crave to witness first-hand. Primarily an ODI and T20 player, he averages over 33 runs per innings in the T20 format and has a strike rate of a 116 runs per 100 balls. In ODIs, Dhoni averages an impressive 59.77 at home while away, his average falls to a healthy 47.87. Further, in tests, he averages 45.76 at home and a measly 32.84 away.
The average difference is symptomatic of his unorthodox “technique” which despite its success, has not been effective against seaming conditions. However, Dhoni has grown as batsman over the years with his role in the team maturing from that of a pinch hitter sent out in the last 5-10 overs to get some quick runs on the board to that of a number 4 batsman that steadies the run chase, secures one end and rotates the strike so that the players at the other end can go for their shots.
As a batsman, Dhoni enjoys one of the most fearsome reputations in world cricket today and for all the sneer & criticism directed at his batting, with 6 runs needed from 1 ball, one would be hard pressed to find a more capable batsman than Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
4. AB de Villiers
Abraham Benjamin de Villiers is a surprise inclusion on this list. His unorthodoxy stems from his ability to change his style of batting at will. Whether the situation calls for batting out the entire last day of the test match or scoring 100 runs in the last 5 overs of a T20 match, de Villiers can do both.
A customary look at his statistics just goes to show how versatile he is as a player. In tests, he averages 52.09 with the distinction of having an away average (52.30) more than the home average (47.89). Another feature to note, his averages across the 4 innings of a test match – 49.65 in the 1st innings, 56.72 in the 2nd, 44.03 in the 3rd and 43.56 in the 4th– are a good illustration of how adaptive he is as batman. In ODIs, he averages 52.03 and has a strike rate of 99.3 while in T20s, his average is a shade over 22 with a strike rate of over 125.
While some struggle against spin others against pace, de Villiers is effective against both. From the textbook cover drives to the “switch-hit”, if there has ever been a shot played, be assured that de Villiers can play it. His stroke play is exemplary and imaginative. They say a picture is worth a 1000 words and in this case, they just might be right, here is one to reiterate the point.
5. Virender Sehwag
For a batsman that has the same number of triple centuries in test cricket as the great Sir Donald Bradman, Virender Sehwag or “Viru” as he is popularly known is sure an anomaly in the world of cricket. His batting style is often described as “Stand & Deliver”. Virender Sehwag is living proof that to be a successful batsman, technique just doesn’t matter. He relies on his superhuman hand-eye coordination to smack bowlers all over the park.
Seldom would there be any footwork even while facing spinners like Muttiah Muralitharan or Saqlain Mushtaq who bowl the doosra so effectively. Learning how to bat in a time when test cricket reigned and cricket students were punished by their coaches if they hit the ball in the air, Sehwag redefined the art of batting and his impact today can be seen by the fact that “getting your eye in” or “settling in” are no longer in the lexicon of batting. In a career full of jaw dropping innings, his 201 not out against a rampaging Ajantha Mendis at Galle Cricket Stadium in 2008 stands out.
A couple of months earlier, Ajantha Mendis had bamboozled the Indian batting line in the Asia Cup final and was set to do the same at Galle with his partner-in-crime Muttiah Muralitharan. The Indian batting order apart from Sehwag himself – Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman – considered by many to be the best and the most technically sound Indian batsmen ever, managed just 329 in the first innings of which 201 had been scored by Sehwag himself. His feet set firmly in the crease apart from the occasionally stepping out to loft the flighted deliveries for a six, Sehwag managed to break the halo around the Mendis Mystery with his unconventional approach.
If dancing down the track to hit a six to a bowler of Saqlain Mushtaq’s caliber, when one is at 295 and set to become India’s first triple centurion ever, isn’t unorthodox, then what is?
*All statistics have been referred from Statsguru, a proprietary of ESPNcricinfo.com