Cricket: New age batsman, new age batting

Virat Kohli played a shot this week that had all of us holding our breath.

No, we said, he didn't do that and yet he had.

It wasn't an outrageous shot of the kind AB de Villiers plays for fun sometimes in the Indian Premier League; that reverse swept six over third man to a fast bowler.

This one was actually so correct, so aesthetic that you might actually wonder why it hadn't been attempted more often.

So this is what happened.

Chris Woakes, of no mean pace normally, even given the flatness of the wicket, (that such surfaces are called "good" tells you that life is about batsmen!) bowled a cutter at 121kph.

It was shortish but it was coming into Kohli and decorum demanded that it be played towards the leg side.

By the way, I cajoled myself into using that word because it is almost extinct!

Decorum connotes respect and, especially in the shorter form, the bat isn't showing too much of that to the ball!

A lot of good batsmen would have been happy flicking that into the open spaces between long on and mid-wicket and scurrying back for two.

I have seen Rahul Dravid play balls a bit fuller than that with that exquisite straight bat jab through mid-wicket.

Some others might have swivelled and tried to pull it around mid-wicket or square leg.

Instead, Kohli, took a ball that was just over waist high and with a delightfully straight bat played a short-arm jab over wide mid-on.

It took flight and by the time it landed, it was some rows behind, among the spectators.

It was astonishing, he didn't have the room to free his arms and swipe at it, so he played a high elbow, elegant push at it. That it should sail for six tells us a lot about today's game.

The first instinct would be to say: "Ah, these modern bats……ah, these short boundaries……ah, these flat pitches…." That is true but that is only part of the story.

It doesn't tell you that the mindset of the modern batsman is completely different.

Yes, he has excellent bats but his ideas of risk and confidence are completely different.

For too long, we had assumed that some shots are risky and, without challenging the thought, just pretended they didn't exist.

This generation is telling us that many of those are eminently playable.

Cricket was about caution, it is now about adventure.

Kohli's shot also tells us that the modern player is much stronger than most players of the past.

It isn't just about the bat, but the power through the shoulders and forearms that is propelling the ball to such distant parts of the ground.

For a long time, this power was used to play hoicks through mid-wicket.

And earlier the power came from jumping out, from a huge backlift and with the entire body participating in a giant heave. Not so any more.

Kohli's shot was a great example of using power to play a composed, straight bat shot.

To that extent, batsmanship has gone to another level and I think it is time we acknowledged that.

I believe in course of time, it will go into folklore and acquire the same aura that Tendulkar's upper cut to Shoaib Akhtar in 2003 has.

We didn't see that shot too often and the occasion was substantial and so it is etched in our minds.

Now, we have become a bit immune to the audacious but even by that standard, this shot from Kohli took your breath away; in its conception, in the belief that it could be played, in the confidence with which it eventually was and in the nonchalance that accompanied it.

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