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Breathing in the 21st century - stop looking down at innovations like switch-hit 

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Maxwell playing a switch-hit against India in ODI series

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Breathing in the 21st century - stop looking down at innovations like switch-hit 

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Harshit Anand

12/04/2020

Certain things never change in life. Governments trying to suppress criticism, Twitter being spammed by Bigg Boss fanatics, boys getting rejected by their crushes, Bollywood's age old definition of romance, and cricket's conformist and dogma worshiping approach towards innovations and evolution. 

“Innovation is the unrelenting drive to break the status quo and develop anew where few have dared to go.“

― Steven Jeffes

As much as concepts like daring, courage, breaking the status quo, adding new dashes to conventions, and free-spiritedness are encouraged in theory, they are frowned upon when executed. For a variety of reasons that explain, reacting to changes is as precarious as making one and stretches beyond life to sports too. But, even in the 21st century, if we have to keep fighting dogma and conformist approaches, then it's just unfortunate, especially for the health of cricket, which hasn't been anywhere near some of the most famous sports in the world as cricket’s growth at best, often seems stunted.

At the crux of any sport lies the thrill, the excitement, the exuberation, the adrenaline rush that it provides fans that leave a long-lasting impression and helps it spread like a wildfire among the masses. If the level of gamesmanship between bat and the ball gets a notch better with any innovation, why bat an eyelid? But, that doesn’t go down well in cricketing circles. 

Ian Chappell reigniting the great ‘Switch-Hit’ debate

Glenn Maxwell has been playing switch-hits like a magician as we witnessed in the ODI series and it was still as jaw-dropping as the first few times we saw a certain Kevin Pietersen switch-hands, send us intro frenzy and leave one and all bewildered as to what's happening in the middle. However, the much respected Ian Chappell termed switch-hitting unfair and went on to say “If the batsman changes the order of his hands or his feet [as the bowler runs in], then it’s an illegal shot." The statement by Ian Chappell had its fair share of takers with prominent TV commentator Harsha Bhogle siding with him and it was as if time machine had taken us back to 2008 when KP stunned the world with the switch-hit. 

 © Twitter

At that time, there was a lot of chatter in the dressing rooms among the players and staff, drawing rooms, pubs, among the many avid watchers of the game, newsrooms with the media dissecting the new advancement, and the much significant committee room of the MCC, the guardians of cricket laws. The MCC had termed switch-hitting "exciting for the game of cricket" and a shot that conforms to the laws of the game. But Chappell's comments have reignited the fire in the debate with the hue and cry over it starting again, pretty much like how every time mankading brings about the fair-unfair thesis of the social media world. 

Detractors of the switch-hit feel that just as a bowler is required to inform the umpire whether he is bowling over or round the wicket, and which arm he will be using, it's unfair for a batsman to change his grip and hand in the switch hit without telling the umpire and make field placings irrelevant. 

The Risk-Reward scenario with Switch-hits

Now, this is too simplistic a way to look and ridicule the success or failure of switch-hit to mere changing of hands/grip and playing with the field for that takes away the skill, strength, complex biomechanics, pre-meditation and the daredevilry of attitude that a batsman showcases. And, of course, the high risk that comes along, which increases the chances of his dismissal. 

Batsmen hardly get a fraction of a second to judge the line, length and speed of the ball. Now, imagine playing a switch-hit - your feet are moving, so is the grip, and to establish the coordination between the two whilst judging everything else is indeed an outrageous skill. There are high chances of misjudging the line and length and mistiming the ball. It's a high-risk shot, seldom played by a handful of batsmen due to the complexity in its execution. 

 © BCCI

And even a bowler might well fancy a switch-hit in comparison to a percentage shot, given the chances of wicket. And if a batsman can make use of ambidexterity, which is rare, let him reap the rewards too. And that is the essence of sport - the thrilling line between success and failure, between ego and calculation, the risk and reward that keep us hooked, these moments of madness, the unexpected turns, the impact of innovations on the ebbs and flows of the game.

There is an argument why bowlers are not allowed to switch their hand mid-over without informing the umpire and if they do, it's deemed as a dead ball, which is right. But, how many times have we seen a world-class bowler do so in international cricket? Someone of KP or Maxwell stature? Yes, in domestic cricket, but if bowlers are serious about this and not only arm-chair experts, someone has to try this at the top-level, question the authority why such double-standards and start a debate around it. Till KP played the switch-hit, no one knew much about the related rules but only after it shot to prominence that it was discussed and allowed. Be it batters or bowlers, or whoever is willing to push the boundaries, transcend the conventions, do it, make the sports more exhilarating, add new dimensions.

Resistance to change dates back to centuries 

It is not new how innovations are looked down upon by people with the prism of what's fair and what's not in accordance to their own convenience. As per an article on Cricket Country, arguably the inventor or one of the first proponents of googly, Bernard Bosanquet scalped his first victim with the delivery in 1900. Subsequently, he was seen with suspicion, as people in Australia connected googly with unfairness and deception. Arunabha Sengupta writes, "It was given the name earmarked for acknowledged rogues – the “Wrong’un”. The societal taboos of the day associated the term with felons, divorcees and homosexuals. And a googly was viewed with the same amount of distrust."

We are in 2020, switch-hit, which makes the spectacle of the game more interesting if anything, has been legal since a long time, yet it is now getting circled like the bogus spirit-of-cricket talks every time someone is mankaded. Evolution of the game has played a big role in its betterment. From a time when Underarm bowling was the original bowling and lobbing a ball over a batsman's head to get him out was one of the norms to where today we are to see top-notch overarm, round-arm bowling, reverse-swing, doosra, things have come a long way and the more the pioneers of innovation there are, the better the game becomes. So, there is a need in cricket circles to become more accepting of the change than resist anything and everything just because it’s a change that we are not accustomed to seeing over the years or we are masters of whataboutery where, if one thing ain’t right, we want the good ones to also go down the drain. 

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