The Style is the Man

In Batting by Bill Ricquier

Fawad Alam batting for Pakistan during a 50-over warm-up match against Somerset at the County Ground, Taunton. Image by HarriasOwn work licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

I found myself being mesmerized on Saturday afternoon, sitting in a bar in Singapore watching the third one- day international between Sri Lanka and Pakistan at Dambulla. The match itself, while not as mind- numbingly dull as the ” clash” between England and India at Nottingham which followed it, was not very interesting. Pakistan’s top order, missing its leader Younis Khan, was demolished by Sri Lanka’s opening salvo and the visitors never got back into the game. But there was one memorable performance from a Pakistan batsman: the left handed number five Fawad Alam made 38 not out.

It doesn’t sound much, and of course it wasn’t. But I was rooted to the spot while Fawad was batting. It is his stance which immediately catches the eye. He faces up with his front – right – leg firmly planted out in the direction of deep mid wicket , like an exaggerated, even more exotic version of the great West Indian Shivnarine Chanderpaul. As with Chanderpaul, by the time the ball arrives Fawad is in a conventional position to receive it . But it makes for a busy time at the crease : there is a lot of footwork going on out there. Essentially it is sound footwork, deep back into the crease or striding well forward. Although not a tall man there is something very angular about his movements and it is almost as though there is a Meccano man batting.

Hardly having seen him before – I missed the first game at Hambantota which he helped to win with an extraordinary run chase – initially I was reminded of the eccentric Worcestershire and Northamptoshire left hander from the 1970s , Jim Yardley, who basically had one scoring shot, a sort of squirt to third man. But Fawad has shots all round the wicket. It’s not beautiful but it’s highly effective. He sweeps very well and offers crunching drives ,straight and through the covers. In limited overs cricket there is a lot of heaving and hoicking: he is always looking to score.

Where has he been? He is almost 30 and has been playing domestic cricket for eleven years and has a first – class average of 55. He has played three Tests. In his first , against Sri Lanka in Colombo in 2009, he made 168 in the second innings , becoming the first Pakistani to make a debut Test century away from home. He has played two Tests since then.

He has been a bit luckier in the limited overs game but really came to prominence this year with the Asia Cup and the World T20 Championship in both of which he performed outstandingly..

Iit is the stance that fascinates though. It is always interesting to watch a batsman who looks a bit different. Chanderpaul’s progress to eleven thousand Test runs has not been obstructed by his crab – like approach. Thirty years ago the English all – rounder Peter Willey raised eyebrows with his extraordinarily two eyed stance. By the end of his career his feet were pointing to mid – on as he prepared to face the ball. When I was growing up in Hampshire in the 1960s one of the county ‘s leading batsmen was a solid right- hander called Henry Horton. ” H” was old in cricketing terms – he retired in 1967 at the age of 44 – but he seemed much older because of his bizarre stance, bent almost double with his backside jutting out. A A Thomson said he looked as if he was sitting on a shooting stick ( try saying that after a couple of glasses.). Bob Stephenson who joined Hampshire as wicketkeeper the following year had, by contrast , the most upright stance I have seen: totally straight up apart from a slight incline at the waist.

Coaches , at least traditionally, are suspicious of unorthodox stances. There is the story of the coach who got fed up with his young charge’s insistence on placing the bat between his feet: you must put the bat behind your back foot, he urged.

“But sir” , his pupil said, ” this is how Don Bradman batted!”.

” Well , think how many more runs he’d have scored if he’d held the bat properly”.

Bill Ricquier, 31/8/2014

This article was published in The Island:

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