It’s been a bugbear of mine for years, as readers of this column will know. What the hell is it with certain batsmen being precious about their place in the order?
The only two batsmen in any team, and any match, who know exactly what they will be doing and what the match situation will be when they walk out to bat – are the two openers.
Number three can walk out to face the second ball of the innings or the 200th at 200-1. Numbers four, five and six face even greater extremes. Their team could be 10-3 or 20-4, not to mention 250-2 or 300-4.
So what are batsmen really saying when they claim to ‘prefer’ batting in a certain position? Is it that they like to bat as many overs as possible? Or that they are perceived to be better, or more deserving of a place higher in the order than their teammates? Perhaps they subconsciously feel that the higher the place in the batting line, the more responsibility must be taken. But surely the man who walks out to bat with 30 required from the last four overs must take as much responsibility as anyone? The result hinges on his innings.
Talking of responsibility, try and imagine how much rests on Gary Kirsten’s shoulders as he attempts to encourage a new way of looking at the batting order. Rather than numbers, or places, the coach is attempting to redefine the order his batsmen go to the crease by ‘situation’ and ‘requirement.’
Not only that, but he is trying to encourage them to embrace the challenge of being able to ‘fit’ more than one situation and tackle more than one requirement.
It is ridiculous that we regard a solid run-gatherer (traditionally a number four, perhaps) as having been ‘relegated’ when he does not walk to the wicket at 260-2 with seven overs to go. Similarly, why should we regard a team’s power-hitter as having been ‘promoted’ when he appears in the same situation.
I get the feeling that Kirsten would abolish the concept of the batting order if he could. In fact, why can’t he? The only reason teams are listed in batting order these days is to help the television graphics people. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be listed in alphabetical order.
Very few international coaches have the courage to radically re-examine the way a game is played, especially if that game has been played for a couple of centuries. And even more so if they have played over 200 games for their country during a highly successful period for both team and country.
There can be few bigger fans of JP Duminy than me. Except for his Mum, perhaps. So I had nothing but a respectful curiosity when he spoke after the first ODI about his pleasure at returning to the number four spot. He came to the crease at 17-2 in the fifth over. AB de Villiers came to the crease at 35-3 in the tenth. Would JP really say that made a material difference? No. The difference is the psychology created by the number (and therefore your perceived worth) in the line-up.
And that is Kirsten’s real challenge if he is changing the way the batsmen think.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to get in touch.