Maverick batsmen ready to put on freak show at World Cup

Wednesday, 16 February 2011 00:34 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Purists will avert their eyes but fans will lap it up when cricket’s maverick batsmen light up the World Cup with their trademark freak shots.

Mike Gatting’s fatal reverse-sweep in the 1987 final, which many believe derailed England’s chase and virtually handed over the silverware to Allan Border’s Australia, seemed to have strengthened the view that the World Cup is too big a stage to indulge in such bravado.

However, Kevin Pietersen, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni and several others at the 2011 tournament which starts on Saturday have different ideas.

Pietersen has already started appearing in a commercial promoting his ‘Switch Hit’, the validity of which polarised opinion before the shot was ruled legal in 2008.

“In the current highly competitive scenario, it’s really important to surprise the opposition with unexpected actions and to change the face of the game by pushing the boundaries,” Pietersen said in a statement issued by the soft drinks company which made the commercial.

“Bringing something new when we play ... keeps the fun alive, not only for us but for the fans as well,” argued Pietersen, who virtually transforms into a left-hander to play the unorthodox shot that challenges traditional field-setting.

“I spend hours and hours in the nets, practising the Switch Hit, trying to perfect it. I have perfected it a couple of times in the game situations. But yes, it’s something new, something fresh, it’s a game-changing shot,” said the South Africa-born English batsman.

Pietersen pioneered the unorthodox shot which requires him to jump, swivel and switch stance to transform into a left-hander to play the shot.

Equally audacious is the scoop shot that Dilshan plays, stretching and stooping to flick the ball from short of a length to send it soaring over the wicketkeeper’s head, often for a boundary.

“Sometimes I play it pre-meditated but a lot of time I pick the right length and the right ball for the shot, that’s why I’m so successful with it,” the Sri Lankan told CNN-IBN channel in 2009.

Aesthetics is the not the strong point of the back foot hoick that Dhoni calls the ‘Helicopter Shot’ either.

“Apart from giving 100 percent and doing whatever you can, thinking out of the box is very important,” the Indian captain said of a shot that allows him to dig out yorkers with a wild swing of the bat and scoop it over long-on.

Former Zimbabwe captain Tatenda Taibu, who scores the bulk of his runs with unorthodox shots, said necessity is the mother of these inventions and innovations.

“If you look at my stature, I’m not the biggest of guys like Yusuf Pathan, who can hit sixes any time he wants,” the 5 ft 5 inch (1.65 m) stumper-batsman said in Chennai.

“But I know if I can get into a good position, deflect the ball and use the pace of the ball, I can get into the bowler’s mind and hit into gaps he doesn’t think I would hit into.

“I think that’s the strength I got. I may not be able to hit big sixes as Pathan would but I can use that strength to score runs.” South African AB de Villiers belongs to the traditional school of thought and said neither he nor any of his team mates fancy such an unorthodox approach.

“We are not out to focus on funny little shots. We all know where our strengths and weaknesses lie and every single individual works on his strengths and weaknesses,” de Villiers said.

ICC chief Lorgat on cricket’s biggest challenges

Reuters - Haroon Lorgat, the International Cricket Council’s chief executive, addressed some of the sport’s challenges four days before the World Cup begins in an interview with Reuters on Monday.

Here is a selection of his comments:

On changes to World Cup format which pitches the 14 finalists into two round-robin first-round groups of seven, a format which appears to ensure none of the big test-playing nations are knocked out early as happened in 2007 with India and Pakistan:

LORGAT: “We’re trying to ensure we give every team the best opportunity of remaining in the competition and not losing out just because of one bad game ... so that the best do go through.”

The readiness of the competition hosts -- India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh -- to hold the event after construction concerns at five grounds including in Mumbai where the final is scheduled to be played on April 2:

LORGAT: “We’ve got to the point now when all of the venues are going to be ready for the games scheduled. There isn’t an issue about the readiness of stadiums.”

Following the five-year bans given to a trio of Pakistan cricketers for cheating last year in England:

LORGAT: “The particular verdict and sanctions contribute to sending quite a strong message. If you do transgress and if you do get engaged in corrupt activities we will hunt you down and we will prosecute.”

On security measures taken ahead of the World Cup:

LORGAT: “We’re mature in our processes, we’re very robust and as a consequence of our experiences.. we’ve got systems and personnel in place. It’s in fact a non-issue.”

Are top cricketers being over-worked and becoming burned-out by a crammed calendar of domestic and international commitments?

Kolkata and Mumbai cleared by ICC for World Cup

Reuters - Kolkata and Mumbai grounds have been given the final clearance to stage Cricket World Cup matches after concerns about their readiness, the head of the governing body told Reuters on Monday.

“Those venues have all been squared off, they’re ready,” International Cricket Council (ICC) chief executive Haroon Lorgat said in a telephone interview ahead of the Feb 19-April 2 tournament. “There isn’t an issue about readiness of stadiums.”

This means only one match, India’s fixture with England on Feb 27, had to be switched from Kolkata’s Eden Gardens to Bangalore. Mumbai has been given the go-ahead to stage the final on April 2 as well as two other group-stage fixtures.

“We felt they (Kolkata) would not be ready by Feb 27 but they had every opportunity to be ready for the matches (there) in March and we’ve got to the point now when all of the venues are going to be ready for the games scheduled,” he said.

“Mumbai made fabulous progress post the initial delays, the initial concerns, that were experienced back in December and when we came for that inspection in January we were satisfied with the progress.

“So there isn’t an issue about readiness of the stadiums.”

Similarly, Sri Lanka’s three grounds were also “good to go”.

A report from the ICC’s World Cup inspection team is expected on Tuesday to confirm his comments.

The ICC’s bill of health will be a big relief to local organisers, particularly in India where the delays in preparing Commonwealth Games facilities last year in New Delhi proved a major embarrassment to a country determined to present a modern, efficient image to world audiences.