Mumbai Indians' Hardik Pandya
Mumbai Indians' Hardik Pandya plays a shot during the IPL match against Kolkata Knight Riders at the Eden Gardens Cricket Stadium, in Kolkata, on April 28, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

Hardik Pandya powered Mumbai Indians to the edge of an impossible victory against Kolkata Knight Riders in Indian Premier League with a 34-ball 91 – only his blistering innings was not enough to push MI to victory. But his gigantic display of power shots leaves a question lingering: who will win a match between today’s no-technique barred batsmen and the feared bowlers of 70s and 80s? Can Pandya (or AB De Villiers, Andre Russell or Kane Williamson) be any match for a Joel Garner bouncer or Wasim Akram toe crusher? Or will Whispering Death aka Michael Holding still be terrorizing batsmen had he been playing today? Gulf News asked our cricket experts to debate – here are the answers:

Bowlers today are scared of batsmen – not the other way around

By K.R. Nayar, Chief Cricket Writer

Would the present IPL hard-hitting heroes shown the audacity to thrash the legendary bowlers from the past?

It is said that cricketers from two eras should never be compared as their style of play would have undergone huge changes over the years. It is even said that it is wrong to compare Sachin Tendulkar with Virat Kohli as the bowlers that Tendulkar faced during the early phases of his career are different from what Kohli have encountered.

Dennis Lillee and Richard Hadlee were among the toughest bowlers to tackle. Lillee created fear in batsmen with his tear-away pace while Hadlee made the ball talk with his ability to swing the ball. Pace was never easy to handle like these days. When the 6ft 8 inch tall West Indies pacer Joel Garner or Malcolm Marshall ran in to bowl, batsmen’s aim was never to hit them out of the ground, but to tackle them safely. In the absence of Twenty20 there was no hurry in the batsmen to hit them too and most batsmen never trained even to hit sixes off fearsome pacers.

Joel Garner
Former West Indian great Joel Garner bowls to Mike Gatting during the Malcolm Marshall Memorial match between a Malcolm Marshall XI and the International PCA Bunbury XI at the Honourable Artillery Cricket ground in London on 27th July 2000. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

I was once fortunate to watch Hadlee in a New Zealand-India match at Sharjah Cricket Stadium in 1988. India’s hard-hitting opening batsmen Kirshnamachari Srikkanth, in his typical style, tried to attack and even hit him for a boundary. The next three deliveries, Srikkanth had no clue as Hadlee moved the ball from the same spot to either side.

The method of coaching those days was such that batsmen were taught to respect moving deliveries and leave them alone without hitting them. Even square cuts were supposed to be played all along the ground and not hit for a six. Today’s batsmen show no respect for any bowler. Even they are trained that way, especially to sharpen their skills to play shots like reverse sweep and even scoop shots.

The legendary bowlers never had to bowl at batsmen with such aggressive intentions. Over and above the batsmen of that era did not possess bats that would see the ball sail out of the ground even if they did not connect it properly.

Wasim Akram
File photo: Pakistan's Wasim Akram bowls at a match in the Rothmans Cup at the Sharjah cricket Stadium, on 15th November 1985. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

The pitches of those days were also not made in favour of the batsmen. Like in Twenty20, bowlers were not meant to be hit but played with respect.

AB De Villiers, Chris Gayle, Andre Russell and Hardik Pandya have trained hard with the intention to hit hard. If the legendary bowlers had to earn respect now from these types of batsmen they too should have added more tricks to outsmart them.

Few great bowlers would have survived today’s onslaught

By Shyam A. Krishna, Opinion Editor

If you’ve been watching IPL 2019, you couldn’t possibly have escaped the big-hitting: the deluge of sixes and fours. A.B. De Villiers, M.S. Dhoni, Jonny Bairstow, David Warner, Chris Gayle, Andre Russell, Hardik Pandya and many others have repeatedly run riot. Very few bowlers have survived the onslaught.

The Indian Premier League is a Twenty20 cricket tournament, so the torrent of boundaries is no surprise. True, the format is loaded heavily in favour of batsmen. Yet the ease at which the bowlers have been taken apart is as baffling as it is exhilarating.

That throws up the question: Are the bowlers sub-par? How would the great bowlers of yesteryears stand up to the scrutiny?

Kolkata Knight Riders' Andre Russell
Kolkata Knight Riders' Andre Russell plays a shot during the IPL match against Mumbai Indians at the Eden Gardens Cricket Stadium, in Kolkata, on April 28, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

Surely, there’s nothing wrong with the bowlers. The placid pitches hardly offer any purchase. A bowler may have a good repertoire that makes him a potent threat in Test matches. That counts for nothing in T20 games, which call for a different set of skills.

A typical T20 fast bowler’s arsenal would include yorkers, slower balls, knuckle balls, leg-breaks and slow bouncers. The strategy is to restrict the scoring. Never mind the adage that the best way to restrict scoring is to take wickets. It’s not possible to run through sides often enough on docile wickets.

Dale Steyn offers a good study. The South African pacer is easily the best fast bowler in recent times. His skill and talent are comparable to Dennis Lillee, Andy Roberts or a Richard Hadlee – all top class pace bowlers. Despite his success in Tests, Steyn hasn’t been as incisive in one-dayers and T20 matches. Remember the mauling at the hands of New Zealand’s Brendan McCallum at the 2015 World Cup. His IPL outings have not been memorable; the battering at the hands of De Villiers was one of the highlights last year.

Former New Zealand pacer Richard Hadlee
Former New Zealand pacer Richard Hadlee. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

So if Steyn can’t contain modern day batsmen, the fearsome fast bowlers from the past would not have fared better. Look back, and you’ll find that the best of them have been humiliated in various formats.

There have been plenty of instances in Tests alone. Sachin Tendulkar’s onslaught gave nightmares to Shane Warne. Graham Gooch did the unthinkable when he put the fiery Colin Croft to the sword. Vivian Richards and Gordon Greenidge still give jitters to bowlers.

Limited overs format put the steroids into cricket. The 1975 World Cup showcased some blitzkriegs by the West Indians. Alvin Kallicharan and Roy Fredericks tearing into Lillee were a sight to behold. So was Clive Lloyd’s brutal innings against an Australian attack that included Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Gary Gilmour.

Four years later, the assault of Vivian Richards and Collis King on an England attack led by Bob Willis and Mike Hendricks is part of World Cup folklore. In another edition, I remember Pakistan captain Imran Khan taking apart West Indies’ Joel Garner. Even Richard Hadlee had to endure a demolition job at the hands of India’s Kapil Dev.

What we see now is merely an extension of that, but today the knocks are a lot more brutal. Modern-day bats have plenty of wood that would take a mis-hit over the line. Batting techniques changed: the bottom hand plays a huge role, an anathema to the purists. Footwork resembles a kabaddi game. Newer shots have been invented: dilscoop, reverse-sweep, reverse-hit, upper-cut and so on. Playing inside-out and swiping across the line have all become common place.

The result is that no target is safe. The death overs have become game-changers. Reputations don’t matter. Every bowler is fair game.

T20 is cricket’s great leveller.

If it’s T20, Russell & co can still beat a Garner

By Gautam Bhattacharyya, Sports Editor

Too much of a good thing – as the cliché goes – is often a bad idea. It holds true for the manic hitting one witnesses every other day in the IPL, the latest example being the carnage from Hardik Pandya when the Mumbai all-rounder exploded against Kolkata Knight Riders with a 91 off 34 deliveries.

The nearly obscene strike-rates of Pandya (267.64) or Andre Russell (207.69) during his 80 off 40 deliveries in the same match often raises the question: will the modern day IPL heroes be able to create the same impact against legendary bowlers like a Dennis Lillee, Imran Khan or the West Indian greats?

A hypothetical question, given the fact that the game has changed beyond recognition in this format, but I will stick my neck out to give the current generation a chance against the awe-inspiring names of the past in the context of IPL. The heavy equipment, the white ball which does not offer as much swing as its red counterpart and shorter boundaries in most grounds in India are conditions which make the contest skewed in favour of the batsmen.

It’s a cricket romantics’ delight to hop onto a time machine and find out if Chris Gayle or AB de Villiers can give the past greats a wallop. If the contest pits the modern day heroes in the setting of a Test match with four slips and a gully, a hint of movement in the air and off the pitch – then they will be caught napping. However, if bowling greats are transported in a T20 format, then today’s batsmen may find an answer by connecting with some mighty heaves while nicks can bolt down to third man boundaries.

Kings XI Punjab's Chris Gayle plays a shot
Kings XI Punjab's Chris Gayle plays a shot during the IPL match against Delhi Capitals at Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium in New Delhi, Saturday, April 20, 2019. Image Credit: PTI

The problem with cricket is it’s the only sport which allows for three formats – with the T20 an unheard concept when some of the bowling greats played the game. An exercise in such ‘Fantasy Cricket’ hence sounds stimulating, but may be little unfair!

Every great bowler gets sorted in a year now – and they spend more time in the gym

By A.K.S. Satish, Senior Pages Editor

Over the years the bat’s domination against the ball has been increasing and the reasons being the change in rules, modern day equipment and formats heavily tilted in favour of the batsmen.

Gone are the days when a batsman will hone his skills to strengthen the defence, now they focus on developing and mastering the art of power-hitting in the era of Twenty20. So if you think these modern day batsmen don’t have the right technique, then you are mistaken. It is not easy to keep hitting the ball regularly over the ropes without the right basics as a drive is an extension of the defence. It’s just that they don’t put a price on their wicket, unlike the past. Their belief is higher the risk, higher the returns, so sometimes they even draw a blank.

When you see a batsman treating the bowlers with disdain and clobber them to all parts of the field, one wonders what is reason behind it? Is it the batsmen’s ability or the lack of bowlers’ skills?

Royal Challengers Bangalore's AB De Villiers
Royal Challengers Bangalore's AB De Villiers plays a shot during the IPL match against Kings XI Punjab at The M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore on April 24, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

In my opinion the bowlers lack the skills and they have moved far away from the basics. It is paramount for a bowler, be it a spinner or a pacer, to consistently bowl length balls - don’t be mistaken that a length ball is pitched three to four foot in front of the batsmen. It varies from batsmen to batsmen based on their reach, their strengths and initial foot movement.

The key to the high-success rate of the legends, who would have still earn a lot of respect from the current crop of batsmen, is they were quick, they could swing/spin and had traditional variations, not different types of slower ones and knuckle ball, and they were accurate. The one aspect that is missing in current bowlers is the more revs that a ball will go through before reaching the batsman, an ingredient that will induce a mistake.

There have been hard-hitters in the past as well. As far as my memory goes some of the biggest hitters of the game were Gary Sobers, Viv Richards, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Ian Botham, Virender Sehwag, Matthew Hayden, Brian Lara, Shahid Afridi, Sanath Jayasuriya all were attacking batsmen in their own right, but they couldn’t ride roughshod over all and sundry due to the quality of bowling that was prevailing during those days. There is a perceptible change in the mindset of the bowlers now. They are afraid to toss the ball and fail to attack the batsmen. They are more in a defensive mode and depend heavily on variations.

In an interview Glenn McGrath said: “The basics are still the same, what a bowler can control is where he is going to bowl the delivery. Bowling six balls in the same area with good control is the same as bowling six totally different balls and landing exactly at where you want. Sometimes, I think the skill level of bowlers have dropped off a bit because of Twenty20 cricket, where they can run in and bowl anything.” It sums up the current state of the bowlers.

Glenn McGrath
File photo: Australian bowler Glenn McGrath celebrates after taking the wicket of West Indies batsman Ramnaresh Sarwan during the second cricket Test in Hobart, 17 November 2005. Image Credit: AFP

Shane Warne, Muthiah Muralitharan, McGrath, Dale Steyn have all exhibited in the Indian Premier League that by keeping the batsmen guessing with good spin and swing one can reap success. But today very few bowlers are capable of imparting big deviation to fox the batsmen unless there is good assistance from the wicket.

The reason for the success is that they are so accurate that they create pressure and want the batsmen to go after them - in Twenty20 their job is lot more simpler as the batsmen will play their shots anyways. In a year or two the mystery bowlers get sorted and demystified.

In the 1980-1990s 250 was a winning score in One Day Internationals, then in the next few decades 250-300 was tough to chase, but now even 400 is not safe as teams score 200-plus in a Twenty20 game.

One of the reasons for the drop in bowling standards is the bowlers spend less time on the nets and more in the gym, a reason for frequent breakdown of the bowlers to injury.

Wasim Akram once said that only by bowling in the nets for hours and hours on bowlers will be able to develop the right muscles needed to bowl long spells and also get more control over the ball. The batsmen are changing their strategies and techniques against bowlers, like standing deep in the crease to pick the Yorkers, but still with the right basics and guile one can earn the respect of the batsmen.

So my verdict is that the standard of bowlers have dropped considerably and with the batsmen, armoured with better equipment, innovating more the gap has widened.