Blitzkrieg is not a term doled around easily in cricket. To see it being used twice in a day to describe two separate innings, is even rarer.
On Saturday, KL Rahul and Sunil Narine gave sports fans that unique opportunity of watching two different batsmen play a blinder of an innings in a span of a few hours in across two cities in the country.
Rahul scored the fastest half-century in the history of the Indian Premier League. He needed just 14 balls to reach the landmark. He finished with 51 runs from 16 balls scored at an astounding strike-rate of 318.75. His knock included six boundaries and four sixes. The knock helped Kings XI Punjab blow away Delhi Daredevils in their opening clash.
Narine wasn’t too far behind. He notched up his half-century in just 17 balls. The Trinidadian was ruthless as he dispatched the Royal Challengers Bangalore to all parts of the park achieving a strike-rate of 263.15. During his effort, he smashed four boundaries and five sixes, set up a clinical win for Kolkata Knight Riders.
In essence both knocks were similar to each other. The objective was the same. Go out, swing at everything, hope it connects and knock the stuffing out of the opposition.
The difference lay in the roles both players hold in their respective teams.
As an opener, Rahul is traditionally meant to accumulate runs and help build the innings rather than just go hammer and tongs. With his classical style of batting, one would never have expected the aggressive knock displayed by him on Sunday.
Narine, by contrast, is your classical pinch hitter. He’s essentially a bowler sent up the order to up the run-rate. Losing his wicket isn’t quite an issue. He either hits out or sits out, the team is content either way. The same isn’t really the case with Rahul. However, on Sunday it was pretty clear he had same license to attack.
Pinch hitters are those players who are sent to bat at any position to increase the net run rate as they try to deal mainly in boundaries.
Both knocks achieved their objective. With sizeable totals on the board, the opposition believed they were still in the game. However, with the openers managing to score at over 13 runs an over in the first six overs, it proved difficult for the opposition to pull things back.
Delhi’s bowlers did well to stretch the game into the 19th over. After Rahul’s thunderstorm, though, Punjab were never really under pressure. One could gauge how confidence-sapping that knock had been.
Narine’s effort seemed to have the same impact. Again RCB pulled KKR into the final over, but despite the regular fall of wickets, the Kolkata batsmen remained ahead of the required rate.
The sheer effectiveness of the two knocks dies raise the question whether more teams in the IPL should employ a regular pinch-hitter up the order?
Art of pinch-hitting
A pinch-hitter gained relevance in the early 90s, as fielding restrictions were first introduced in the limited-overs. While some negotiated these early tight overs in a traditional sense, other used proactive methods to make most of the scoring opportunities. Many teams like New Zealand and England promoted power-hitters to the top of the order, the likes of Ian Botham were suddenly opening the innings and achieving great success while doing so.
It was during the 1996 World Cup, with Sri Lanka’s Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana that the ultra-aggressive approach really took off. The theory was that these non-traditional batsmen would give the side a blistering start and the more traditional batsmen will take over and build the innings from there on.
The concept has since evolved dramatically as aggression and power-hitting are expected to be necessary skills now.
Adam Gilchrist, Shahid Afridi, Herschelle Gibbs all come to mind as batsmen who took the charge to the bowlers making risky big-hitting the norm.
Over the years, though, the role of the pinch-hitter has diminished with almost all batsmen getting adept at scoring aggressively. The likes of Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Rohit Sharma have made attacking batting a look easy.
As Rahul went about his power-hitting, he would have had his Kings XI Punjab coach Virender Sehwag at the back of his mind. Not many could dispatch bowlers in the manner with which the Nawab of Najafgarh went about his business.
Scenarios might be different now, especially in the IPL where nearly every batsman is an aggressor. However, with all teams equally matched, may be experiments such as these that will dictate who comes on top.
Narine has become a regular opener for KKR since last season. The consistency with which he has managed to score breath-neck half-centuries has been jaw-dropping. He scored 222 runs last season at a strike-rate of 174.80. If his opening knock this season is any indication, more runs seem to in-store in the coming games.
Like Narine, most teams in the IPL have enough fire-power down the order to fashion a pinch-hitter. Kings XI made their regular batsman don the role in Mohali on Sunday, signalling that a blitzkrieg up front a sound tactic to counter the opposition. Will teams take it seriously, is a question only they can answer.
For now, though, one can just marvel at what Rahul and Narine pulled off on Sunday and maybe hope others have taken note.