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“It is one tactic which should ideally never lose relevance. Yet, it remains in the last, unopened drawer of team’s plans. There are umpteen reasons to not use pinch hitters in modern day ODI cricket. The “success rate for an experiment” is so important these days that any failure is dissected, discussed and trolled on social media”

Maybe it just doesn’t make sense anymore. Perhaps it is simply that boot cut jean you are too scared to flaunt for it is no longer in fashion, even frowned upon. Once such a major attraction after Imran Khan started it, Martin Crowe took it to the World Cup and the Sri Lankan duo of Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana popularised it, the art of pinch-hitting is fast disappearing in a world of power hitting.

These days teams are stuffed with hitters from top to bottom, ones who can consistently find boundaries and put opposition bowlers off their rhythm. The concept of pinch-hitting is lost to ODI cricket and perhaps used only in shades of its former self in the shortest format of the game. But is it so obsolete that it can no longer be used even when it could be a potential game-changer in the fifty-over format?

Where have all the pinch-hitters vanished? The late 90s and early 2000s saw a crowd of pinch-hitting batsmen with Greg Chappell infamously ending Irfan Pathan’s blossoming career by constantly using him as a no.3. Perhaps, Irfan was the last of consistent pinch-hitters in ODI cricket. Teams no longer worry about moving batsmen around the batting order by more than one or two places.

Sticking to the plan that was chalked out prior to the game with the help of video inputs, analysts, a hundred technicians and experienced department-wise coaches has taken so much precedence that captaincy has become a robotic, almost machine-made process.

There is no reason for captains to think anymore for they have data, hypothesis, expected results for certain decisions all at the tip of their fingers. It no longer makes sense to even go by instincts. The procedure has become entirely mechanical that master tacticians are computers and skippers are team analysts.  

In the furore and exhilaration that technology provides, all teams think alike, all decisions are made in team discussions and individual on-spot thinking or backing one’s gut feel is nominal, almost neglected.

What cricket has lost in the process is the human touch. Teams make less of mistakes these days because there is a process behind everything that goes on. They are all so process-oriented that anything outside the line, that was drawn prior, is taboo.

The essence of captaincy has drained with the development of technology and it is perhaps one reason behind pinch-hitters becoming entirely obsolete. But is it no longer a valid tactic? It may not be an approved one, but the effect it can have is often ignored because it isn’t a part of the “plan” and the chances for it coming to a cropper is perhaps high.

But with so much technology and analytical tools at their disposals, couldn’t teams fine-tune pinch-hitting and identify the right candidates, right situations and right way to introduce pinch-hitters rather than just following an expected line of thinking. The whole point of the theory is to put the opposition off their plans. The effect of the guerrilla attack was in its surprise element. Same goes with pinch-hitting.

You could follow a process, use technology to identify the personnel but it doesn’t change the fact that you need that bit of instinct, the final human touch, for it to work. The scenarios in present-day ODI cricket are vastly different from what it used to be. But teams have so much talent and every player has better-attacking instincts that if used right, pinch-hitting could still be a potent weapon.

It is one tactic which should ideally never lose relevance. Yet, it remains in the last, unopened drawer of team’s plans. There are umpteen reasons to not use pinch hitters in modern day ODI cricket. The “success rate for an experiment” is so important these days that any failure is dissected, discussed and trolled on social media. But wasn’t the risk-element equally relevant yesteryear too?

Martin Crowe took a massive gamble with Mark Greatbatch and Arjuna Ranatunga took one with Romesh Kaluwitharana and Sanath Jayasuriya, both of which worked wonders, but there are tons of other examples where it didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. But has cricket become so very bookish that creativity or unpredictability is no longer a captain’s quality? Get your thinking caps on, skippers.

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