First things first. The square cut was my preferred boundary option, but there always is more to scoring runs at any level than banking on a specific stroke.
I am not unaware that people have been fascinated by the Vishwanath square cut. What I can tell you is that it was a stroke born out of necessity.
My tryst with the cut began with the tennis ball, which invariably got big on you. I was a slight, thin boy with no power to speak of, and while I did play the drive and the flick, seldom would the ball reach the boundary. The cut, by contrast, didn’t require me to generate power entirely on my own, I could use the pace of the ball. I am not saying every cut I played fetched me four runs, but it had greater potential to cross the boundary than any other stroke. Over time, because I played it so often, I got quite good at it, though it also brought about my downfall a fair few times. On the so-called risk versus reward charts, however, I was seldom in the red; by a conservative estimate, I reckon more than 4,000 of my 6,080 Test runs came through the cut.
As I graduated through the ranks, from the schools’ level to playing against a cricket ball, the square cut and the late cut remained at the top of my boundary options. There was hardly an innings of substance that wasn’t dominated by these two strokes, though when I started to play for Mysore and then the country, my reputation had preceded me and teams were trying to deny me my bread-and-butter option.
Therefore, I had to expand my boundary repertoire. The higher you climb up the cricketing ladder, the less advisable it is to rely on one particular shot or on a specific way of getting runs. In any case, I grew stronger and bulked up a little, so the other strokes too started to yield boundaries, but people associated me largely with the square cut. And, as so many have told me so often, the square cut with me, which is both flattering and humbling. The label stuck with me during my career, and has remained so to this day. I am not complaining.
The more Tests I played, the more teams tried to trap me on that stroke, determined to convert my strength into my Achilles’ heel. I took it up as a challenge. It wasn’t my ego that called the shots. I knew I could play the stroke well, and no matter their plans, if I executed the way I wanted to, it would still be as productive as ever. Some of my teammates, both with Karnataka and India, suggested I stop playing it because it was causing my downfall. I didn’t tell them off, but politely pointed out that it was my most prolific scoring stroke, and I welcomed opposition designs of trapping me on the cut. So long as I played the ball on its merit, there were plenty of runs to be had.
I wasn’t a blind, compulsive cutter. You can’t be if you aspire to be successful. Unless the ball was truly short and just wide enough for me to reach it, I didn’t play it in the air when there were no fielders at either deep point or deep third man. Otherwise, it was all about being in control. Of yourself, and of the stroke. You can control your mind through constant reinforcement, but the only way to control the stroke and keep the cut on the ground is to get on top of the ball. Like the hook, this is not an easy stroke to play because of the attendant risks. You need to work really hard to hit the ball on top of its bounce. I put in the work required which is why, I’d like to think, I scored the runs I did.
You must learn from experience, because unless you do so, you will be left behind. When you start off in Test cricket, you tend to be more aggressive if you are a strokemaker because it’s that approach which has brought you to this level. Quickly, you understand there is a gulf between domestic and international cricket, that you have to temper your mindset. You have to constantly want to learn. Learn from playing with and against great players, yes, but primarily learn from your mistakes, learn on your own. If you have played 20–30 Tests without gaining any knowledge, it’s a waste of time. My philosophy was that you must gain at least one positive from each match, and the best way of doing that was analysing your own batting because at the end of the day, you are your best judge.
Published with permission from Wrist Assured: An Autobiography by Gundappa Vishwanath with R Kaushik – Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd.