Ian Bell – The Cover Drive
Sir John Arlott once famously remarked that “one cover–drive from Hutton was a stroke to stir the romantic cricketer to extravagance”. While we cricket lovers are unfortunately deprived of the pleasure of watching the great Sir Leonard Hutton execute Arlott’s shot, the classy Ian Bell has done his very best to remedy the lacunae and fill the void. There is an element of languid grace and lithesome élan to Bell’s batting and no shot exemplifies these two features more than his cover drive. The English batsman’s driving can be encapsulated in one simple word – exquisite. It is a joy to behold Bell essaying the cover drive.
Capable of driving both on the front as well as of his back foot, Bell is the epitome of picturesque beauty when in full flow. Keeping his eyes on the ball till the very last minute, Bell plays the cover drive as a barely perceptible extension of the forward defensive. With his head perfectly balanced and looking over the front foot, he leans into the delivery and with the full face of the blade displaying its maker’s name, gloriously drives, nay caresses the ball, perfectly bisecting the fielders at cover, extra cover and mid off. If the stroke is splendid, the follow through is regal! With the bat facing the path traversed by the ball and the feet in a side on position, Ian Bell post execution of the cover drive is a photographer’s unbridled delight.
While playing the shot off his backfoot, Bell standing tall, plays the ball on the up, with a high front elbow and with a minimum of follow through and fuss, finds the cover boundary. According to Neville Cardus, the great Archie McLaren was capable of playing imperious strokes shooting grandeur over the field. In the world of modern day cricket, the sight of Ian Ronald Bell driving a ball in a silky smooth vein through the covers is a sight of imperial grandeur.
Brian Lara – One Legged Pull
Brian Lara’s batting exuded flair and was synonymous of flamboyance, two characteristic features typifying Calypso cricket. He was also endowed with an immeasurable appetite for runs and an enviable application at the crease. These two qualities ensuring that he is the only batsman in the history of cricket to have scored a quadruple and a quintuple hundred in addition to the usual suspects constituting the century, double and triple. Lara never sacrificed either temperament or common sense at the altar of flair and flamboyance. Lara in full flow renders a rarified air to the atmosphere. As the mundane is replaced by the mesmeric, nuanced strokes stem forth unshackled from his worthy blade. Flowing cover drives, delicate late cuts, majestic drives and effortless flicks all machinate to manufacture moments of sheer ecstasy. It is as though the magical batsman is putting on a show to please the phalanx of Gods admiringly observing him going about his masterful craft.
While every sweetly timed or powerfully struck Lara shot is a symbol of dominance and euphoria, the one shot that evokes unabashed admiration and unashamed approbation is his authoritative pull shot played standing high on one leg. Initially Lara stands at the crease with his bat in the most usual and conventional position – by his feet. But he quickly changes the conventional into a pronounced backswing thereby ensuring an extravagant back lift. With unbelievable hand eye co-ordination and using the depths of the crease to incredible effect, Lara latches on to a short delivery in the twinkling of an eye. Lifting his front leg to obtain the requisite momentum and the relevant balance, Lara pulls the ball commandingly and unerringly finds the boundary in the square leg region. This shot is a potent combination of the savagery lent by Vivian Richards and the sublime skills exhibited by a David Gower. The sound of the bat hitting the ball is music to the ears of his friends and murder in the eyes of his opponents.
In the world of cricket there are batsmen and there is Brian Lara. A versatile mixture of power and deftness, Lara has produced many an innings of immense import and incredulous magnitude. All while manage to be elegant, graceful and fluid. To quote John Keats “a thing of beauty is a joy forever”. Brian Charles Lara has undoubtedly been one of the most beautiful things to have happened to cricket and cricket will forever remember him thus.
Ricky Ponting – The Pull Shot
There are few spectacular sights in world cricket than Ricky Ponting playing the pull shot. The fact that the former Australian World Cup winning captain is at unbelievable ease while essaying this horizontal bat shot both off his front as well as the back foot, not only elicits amazement but also makes for some scintillating viewing. The viciousness of this shot when played by this marvelous right hander is such that the sound produced by the bat hitting the ball is akin to a ringing gunshot!
The gum chewing Ricky Ponting with eyebrows raised under his helmet taps his bat a couple of times on the pitch as the bowler comes running in. The delivery is one that is banged in short. Ponting with his natural ability to judge the length of the ball to faultlessness gets into an impeccably superb position, rocks back onto his back foot, and with a lithe swivel of the hips, rolls his wrist to send the ball crashing into to the square leg or mid-wicket boundary. Often times, he also chooses to get underneath the ball and sends it soaring into the stands. With great hand-eye co-ordination and a greater bat speed, Ricky Ponting is capable of choosing the exact spot where he wants to dispatch the ball to with this pull shot. His magnificent positioning ensures that he has that wee bit of additional time which in the game of cricket distinguishes chaff from wheat and a great batsman from the good ones. When the pull is played by Ponting off the front foot, the pirouette or the swivel is less pronounced since the batsman has elected not to rock back onto his back foot. The effect nevertheless is the same. However in this case the shot resembles a remorseless slap and is slightly inelegant in comparison with its back foot counterpart.
Greater the pace, the more effective is Ponting’s pull stroke. Therefore it came as no surprise to anyone when the late Tony Greig exclaimed that Ricky Ponting was the game’s best player of the pull shot! The gun shot effect; the gung ho manner of the shot and the gargantuan stature of the man all contrive to make it a great privilege to watch Ricky Thomas Ponting play the pull shot, play it like none other – and play it to perfection!
Virat Kohli – The ‘Inside Out’ Shot
The Nostradamus of all run chases, the Indian captain could give a run to both the FBI and Al Capone in so far as hunting down a ‘target’ is concerned. Adept at all three formats of the game, this marauding Indian batsman has carved out a hallowed niche for himself in the art of batting. Nothing typifies this aspect better than the scintillating ‘inside out’ shot which Kohli has made his own. Every spinner’s (and when Kohli is in the mood, the occasional paceman’s too) nightmare, the inside out stroke is a delectable joy to behold for its sheer aplomb in execution!
Still headed, perfectly balanced, Kohli waits for the right ball to plot his move. Spotting the trajectory of the ball and reading the line and length in double quick time, he gets slightly outside the line of the delivery. Kohli with twinkling feet traipses down the track and his willow comes down from a very short back lift to send the ball hurtling either over or through the covers. A combination of extraordinary hand-eye co-ordination, ability to spot the line and length of the ball with precision and a singularly unique gift of timing contrive to make this shot one of the contemporary delights in modern day cricket. A strong bottom hand surprisingly does not seem to pose any form of impediment whatsoever to the execution of this imperious stroke. Finally a spectacular footwork ensures that the batsman is never cramped when getting to the pitch of the delivery.
The Inside Out Shot – A Kohli Copyright!
Sachin Tendulkar – The On Drive
You know that the earth is perfectly spinning on its axis and the planets are adhering to their orbital precision when Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar essays the on drive! The Teutonic grace and incorrigible perfection with which Tendulkar plays this stroke makes it a veritable master class.
Peter Roebuck once famously compared Sachin’s straight drive to a “bullet fired from a most efficient gun.” The on drive is by general consensus regarded as one of the most daunting and difficult shots to play in the game of cricket in addition to being a purist’s allure. And no one accords more delight with this shot than Tendulkar. If the on drive is an art, then Sachin Tendulkar is its Vincent Van Gogh.
With a perfectly still head Sachin dissects the length of an even fractionally over pitched delivery and in a flash pounces upon it with the instincts of a predator. The heavy blade of his is impeccably close to his left pad. Slightly leaning forward, Tendulkar brings his full face of the bat ramrod straight to meet the ball and just punches it either past the bowler or past the fielder at mid-on. The left elbow is high and in picture perfect position. The shot is entirely bereft of an extravagant or extended follow through. It is as though the bat is just a natural extension of the hand. The moment the bat makes contact with the ball, it is send thudding towards the boundary at the speed of a furious meteor. The timing is exquisite, the placement precision perfect and the result glorious.
The scintillating genius of Sachin’s on-drive lies in the punctuating stillness which is in sharp contrast to the ball hurtling towards the boundary. The batsman immediately after playing the stroke is statuesque in his bearing; the hapless bowler stands shock still unable to comprehend the mastery of the stroke; the fielders are inevitably motionless while the non-striker just stands admiring the grass being seared by the speeding ball.
With over 30 thousand odd runs in the two major international formats of the game, this champion from Mumbai has ensured that he has etched an indelible place for himself amongst the pantheon of immortals in the world of cricket. However cricket itself will remember him the best for his coruscating brilliance and unsurpassed excellence with the on-drive in the same way the world of poetry will remember William Blake for his verses and visual artistry.