Cricket has evolved a lot over the years and so is the batting. However, before the advent of the T20 cricket and the subsequent trimmed formats, the onus was usually put on playing orthodox shots. Even the coaches used to stress on following the basics. Rather the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Ricky Ponting thrived in international cricket on the back of their proficiency to play text book shots.
And these legendary cricketers don’t need any introduction. No wonder watching Jos Buttler play the scoop shot or Ben Stokes’ switch hit which goes for a six makes it for a sensational viewing. But the joy of the ball hitting the middle of the bat after playing an exquisite front foot drive or a straight drive or a backfoot punch is only known to a certain technically perfect batsman.
Not that the batsmen playing innovative shots have no skills and one should credit them fully for mastering those shots. But to see any batsman play a soothing drive makes a fan feel at home and even in the 21st century, the cricketing world is fortunate to witness some of those players.
Here we rank top 5 current batsmen with their ability to play proper textbook shots:
5. Babar Azam
Five years ago on May 31, 2015, a 20-year-old kid named Babar Azam strode out to bat at number four for Pakistan against Zimbabwe and the rest is history. He scored an attractive and stroke-filled 54 off just 60 balls on his international debut and though it came against Zimbabwe (with all due respect to them) many termed him as the Pakistan’s version of Virat Kohli.
Fast forward to 2020 and Babar Azam is Pakistan’s T20I captain and has already played some of the memorable knocks in the country’s cricketing history. The way he takes his stance, Babar looks the technically most perfect batsman Pakistan has had in the last decade (again with all due respect to Pakistan legends).
Among all the shots he plays, Babar Azam’s cover drive is absolutely pleasing to the eyes. He turns beast whenever the bowlers offer him slender of a width. Babar seamlessly shifts all the weight on the backfoot and plays exquisite cut shot and back foot punches. In an era where the batsmen playing some outrageous strokes are preferred, Babar Azam’s batting comes a breath of fresh air and there should be no surprise if he ends up as one of the batting legends of the game.
4. Kane Williamson
How do you explain the batting of this gentleman? He is cool as a cucumber every time he comes out to bat and more often New Zealand is under pressure with a fall of an early wicket. But the Kiwi skipper takes it upon himself almost every time to bail his team out of trouble and he does it with utter ease.
Bowl him a fuller length delivery; bowl him a short of a length delivery; try bowling a bouncer to him; Kane Williamson has an answer to every kind of ball. It is the balance of his body with which he plays the front foot and back foot shots. Modern cricket’s one of the most underrated skills is the rotation of strike and the New Zealand captain is the master of it. He just manoeuvres the ball into the gaps, plays it with the soft hands to get to the other end and let the scoreboard ticking.
And mind you, this is the toughest thing to do in the modern cricket and this man does it so easily playing proper cricketing strokes. Kane Williamson’s another extraordinary skill is to play the ball under his eyes. He tries to play the ball as late as possible and then take it from there. This is why, if one would analyse his batting, especially in tough conditions, he would’ve played most of the shots on the backfoot and the singles will be accumulated through the third man region.
He is already considered the best in New Zealand at the age of 29 and Kane Williamson will be definitely at the top of the best batsmen of all time, the game has ever witnessed by the time he hangs his boots.
3. Steve Smith
For many, Steve Smith is the modern day batting genius. His weird but unique technique has helped him churn out runs for fun, especially in Test cricket. “What kind of technique is this?”; “He won’t succeed with this technique for long?”; These were some of the reactions when the experts saw him batting early on. And he has proved literally each one of them wrong.
Yes, Steve Smith’s extraordinary shuffling before the bowler delivers the ball is nowhere in the textbook. But the process he follows post his shuffle is important. Smith does everything right a batsman should do and his impeccable hand-eye coordination makes it easy for him.
One would argue that he plays majority of his shots on the leg-side. Yes, but then an ardent Test cricket fan will just advice him or her to watch his knocks in the Ashes last year in England. Those cover drives, backfoot punches, cut shots through the off-side were so sublime that very few will get bored of watching repeatedly.
The technique is very much weird. But then it is working for him and the basics he is following are absolutely spot on which leads to Smith making it to this list. And to add to it, his stats, not long ago, were compared to the all-time great Sir Don Bradman. So the debate ends there!
2. Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma is another cricketer whose place in the team, until he became the opener, was always questioned. But he has literally turned his career into glory in the last seven years. ‘Lazy elegance’ is the term which is always associated with him thanks to the effortless shots he plays.
Every time Rohit Sharma plays a shot, one feels that he has that getting extra second than any other batsman. And he is one of the very few batsmen in the modern cricket who is comfortable against the short ball and can dispatch most of the such deliveries in a day into the stands.
His eyes light up just after seeing the short ball and within a fraction of second, Rohit rocks back and gets in a perfect position to orchestrate a pull shot. Not that he cannot play the other shots, but India’s limited-overs vice-captain looks the most elegant while playing the pull shot.
Another important facet of his batting is that he hits sixes playing proper cricketing shots. Also, it goes without saying that the batsman who has amassed more than 14000 runs in his international can easily play straight drive, cover drive, square cut and all the other shots in the cricketing textbook.
1. Virat Kohli
“Look at the body language…. oh, man. I’d be happy to play something like that when I was playing,” these were the words of none other than Sir Viv Richards on air when he saw Virat Kohli playing a lofted cover drive giving himself room while still being on the front foot off Jason Holder in August last year. When one of the best players of his time is saying such things about you, then you are definitely the world’s best batsman.
Virat Kohli is a seriously perfect batsman of the modern era. Yes, there might be some flaws in his batting but his consistency across the formats is unmatched. Scoring more than 70 international centuries is by no means a joke and the Indian skipper has done it all playing some proper cricketing strokes.
And it should not be a surprise that Kohli plays cover drives for fun. The timing which he attains while playing the cover drive, that balance of the body and the fact that his bat meets the ball exactly under his eyes makes it just the perfect shot. Apart from that, the superstar of the Indian cricket owns the flick shot.
The guy just nonchalantly lifts from the good length area in the air and can play a similar delivery through the ground to the mid-wicket area. Another strength of Virat Kohli’s batting is his way of playing a controlled pull shot and still making it sure it goes for a four.
The aforementioned attributes are just a few and there is clearly more to his batting which makes him the best in the business at the moment. He is already the legend of the game and looks destined to break most of the batting records in the next few years of his illustrious career.
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