A power-hitting coach in an integral part of teams in the Indian Premier League. That’s in addition to the batting coach. The significance of big-hitting in a T20 game cannot be overstated. These days players come into a crisis and blaze away when you expect them to put their heads down and repair the damage.
T20 cricket now is a different ball game. It bears little resemblance to other forms of cricket, and it has evolved drastically in a short span. The IPL showcases the latest tactics and strategies in the chase to win.
In a T20 game, each side gets only 120 balls (legitimate) to score. Usually, a par score would be in the region of 170. That means a team have to score more than a run a ball. Since power-hitting is the key to scoring quickly, it gave birth to the finishers.
Michael Bevan is the original finisher. The Australian earned the moniker by steering his side to improbable wins with some sensible batting: no dot balls and boundaries at opportune times. When Mahendra Singh Dhoni took over the role for India, the finisher was the batsman who could slam sixes late in the innings. That’s because of the Indian captain’s penchant for taking the game deep. A 20 off the last over was not beyond Dhoni’s grasp.
Finishers around the world have learnt from Dhoni. Kieron Pollard and Andre Russell are feared power-hitters in the IPL. So is Hardik Pandya, although he’s cast in a different role this season. The captaincy of Gujarat Titans brought more responsibility as he bats at No 4.
Russell put the Punjab Kings’ attack to the sword, hacking a 31-ball 70 for the Kolkata Knight Riders. Fellow West Indian Pollard is yet to fire in a big way. Another late order blitzkrieg came from Dinesh Karthik, whose 23-ball 44 catapulted the Royal Challengers Bangalore to an unlikely win against the Rajasthan Royals.
All these pale compared to Pat Cummins’ 15-ball 56, which equalled the fastest IPL 50 (14 balls). The whirlwind efforts of Odean Smith, Russell, Karthik and Cummins came late in the order as they are designated power-hitters.
Power-hitting now is not limited to the late-order batters. Any batter in any position can do it if that ties in with the team strategy. Look back at the days before T20, when One-Day Internationals were the truncated form of cricket. Openers like Krishnamachari Srikkanth would hit over the infield to make use of the fielding restrictions in the powerplay. Players in that role were called pinch-hitters. Now we call them power-hitters. When they come late in the order, they are termed finishers, as their job is to chase down targets however steep they are.
Power-hitting starts at the top these days. Ishan Kishan, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, Jos Buttler, Venkatesh Iyer, Prithvi Shah and Robin Uthappa are openers who hammer away in the powerplay. Even Moeen Ali, Devdutt Padikkal and Bhanuka Rajapaksa, who come at the fall of the first wicket, are keen to display their six-hitting prowess straightaway; they don’t need time to settle down.
Even the loss of two wickets does not deter Liam Livingstone or Sanju Samson from launching into a counter-attack. An attack vicious enough to wrest back the initiative. That’s what Glenn Maxwell will be doing when he resumes for the Royal Challengers Bangalore. A role Marcus Stoinis will fulfil when he reports for duty at the Lucknow Super Giants.
Teams have bought players specifically power-hitting. Tim David of the Mumbai Indians is one such example. Shimron Hetmyer of Rajasthan Royals is another. So are Odean Smith and many more.
So power-hitting is not limited to late-order batters, who explode in the slog overs, or fashion unlikely wins chasing tall totals. Nor is it the domain of top-order batsmen, who heave over the infield when only two fielders can be posted outside the 30-yard circle during the powerplay.
T20 tactics have changed. Middle overs are no longer a time to prepare for the slog-over assault or repair the early damage. Every stage of the innings is good enough to attack. If teams can pull it off, they have the advantage, which could translate into wins.
The Punjab Kings’ power-hitting coach Julian Woods says power-hitting is different from batting. That’s why teams have power-hitting coaches and power-hitting drills. “For lack of knowledge, former players and coaches feel that power-hitting, it is just about keeping your hands up and clearing your front leg (to hit it). It is a lot more than that. It’s all about angles and contact points,” he told PTI.
So when the next six soars into the sky, don’t forget to thank the power-hitting coach.