When Ian Botham played the shot, it looked ugly all right but it seemed to befit the man and his cheekiness. It appeared to contravene the spirit of the law, but in a harmless and endearing sense, not unlike a Javed Miandad stealing a single after giving the fielding team the impression that he considered the ball dead. So it became accepted as the Botham shot (though he did not quite invent the stroke) and gradually, other players, many less accomplished than Botham and some more, started attempting the stroke, with mixed results.
Mike Gatting’s famous dismissal in the finals of the 1987 World Cup was promising: will it mean the death of the shot? Unfortunately, but rightly so, the man got pilloried more than the stroke. The reverse sweep survived. Today when Rahul Dravid plays it, it's his statement that he can play unorthodox shots, and thus is not a misfit for Twenty20. When Matthew Hayden plays the left-hander’s version of it, it seemed to be one more manifestation of his ugly-but-hugely-effective run-gathering approach.
When Kevin Pietersen launched those two left-handed sixes off Scott Styris (one of them through long-off / long-on!) en route to a match-winning century against the New Zealanders earlier this week, I groaned. (I know he did it once before against Muthiah Muralitharan in a test match, but then once is an exception, twice is a trend.) Come on, this was not a gentle paddle to fine-leg / third-man for an ambled single; this was just playing the other way around. Instead of a light-hearted skirt around the spirit of the game, it was becoming another tool for batsmen to terrorise bowlers. Surely it was time for the administrators to step in and do something?
Step in they did, but do something they did not. They investigated and decided that the ‘switch hit’ (note the change in terminology: it’s no longer the reverse sweep; on such subtleties does the game change) is “exciting to the game of cricket” and therefore gave it an all-clear sign. Michael Holding, the patron-saint of bowlers, questioned the double standards at play here, arguing that when bowlers cannot change hands midway without intimating the umpires, why should batsmen be allowed to do so. The MCC response?
They [bowlers] do not provide a warning of the type of delivery that they will bowl (for example, an off-cutter or a slower ball). It therefore concludes that the batsman should have the opportunity – should they wish – of executing the ‘switch-hit’ stroke.
Sure they’re comparing different fruits here? The bowler’s craft involves mixing things up – slower ones, yorkers, bouncers, etc. – while bowling with one hand and the batsmen respond with their own execution strategies, in terms of what stroke to play – drive, cut, pull, hook, defence, leave, etc. – while also batting in one stance. That’s the comparison, and it ends there.
Now with the legitimisation of the ‘switch-hit’ (it still does not have enough legitimacy with me to escape the inverted commas), batsmen, the deprived souls that they are, get an advantage over the bowler. So if you can’t play leg-spin properly, all you need to do is change grips so the ball comes into you rather than turn away. Sure, such ambidexterity is not easy, but at least batsmen can practice the shot and the ‘gifted’ ones like KP may come off successful. But what about the bowlers? Bowling off one’s other hand is even more difficult, so even granting that for bowlers is not a reasonable levelling out.
The anti-bowlers’ campaign carries on mercilessly, as the MCC and the other bodies benignly preside over the gradual inevitable death of the game. To begin with, the death of the bowler. Why would any one want to be a bowler in a batsman’s game? It’s about as intelligent as launching a new brand of typewriters in the market today.
Forget test cricket versus Twenty20, let’s stoke the batsmen versus bowlers argument.