‘Busy’ is a term that used to dominate the cricketing landscape. It was a quality insisted upon in every individual as the basis for the success of the team.
The term went hand in hand with batting, as seen in the old style when its nuances were embraced. It was an immersion in the art of accumulating runs crucial in the building of an innings. It was a wink at your partner as the fast bowler started to run in, followed by the blunting of the ball at your feet to get off strike and then scurrying through for a single. It was a deflection tapped into a gap for another single here and a hard run two there. It got into the bowler’s head space by the irritation it created. It was all the more infuriating if the batting partnership was between a left and right hand pair. The change in lines and tactics for the bowler along with the accompanying fields was an unspoken victory within the greater battle. There was a sense of satisfaction from seeing the respective fielders swearing under their breath as they had to rotate in the field two or three times in an over as the sun scorched down on them.
‘Busy’ defined the crucial nature of partnerships. The ability to rotate the strike furthered an individual’s own needs while supporting their partner’s. Subtle and risk free, but decisive in the ascendancy gained. The burden of pressure was imposed with the ticking over of the scoreboard. At the same time opposition plans fractured due to the targeting of players never backed by sustained assaults. The benefits for your following mates was underrated, similar to the boxing ethos of working the body to rule the mind, knowing that it is a marathon rather than a sprint.
This depth is lost in the current age where everything revolves around immediacy. It is now a proven strategy consigned to a bygone era. The embrace of what is considered sexy is king in the modern age of batting, complete with the transparency that goes hand in hand with this.
The aptly named ‘Mr Cricket’, Michael Hussey was the last noted disciple. He was a batsman lauded for his completeness, as shown by his domination in all three forms of the game. The superficial meaning of his moniker was understood by most, but his adherence to the traditions of batsmanship give it a greater depth that facilitated his dominance in the modern era. He embraced the name by walking to the crease and in a blink of an eye he would be on 30 and fully set. It left one and all befuddled as to how he could do this, with no evidence of booming cover drives, or blazes over cow corner. Just heady batting that most struggled to fathom.
In bringing up Hussey, the indictment of the current batsman is damning. An unhealthy reliance on boundary hitting for runs now rules. The predominantly flat pitches are the key to why. It has seen a generation of one dimensional batsmen standardised by the conditions that are shamelessly in their favour. A seeming batting underclass that can rule in conditions they feel comfortable in but be hung out to dry when in conditions that are foreign to them.
A poster child of this malaise is Australia’s Usman Khawaja. His average is 63.73 at home, as opposed to only 27.21 away. His massive struggles against spin in Asia are well publicised. The unspoken problem is the inability of Khawaja in these confines to rotate strike. This makes his weakness easy to fully exploit by ruthless and unyielding opponents, along with burdening his respective batting partners with pressure.
Babar Azam of Pakistan is similar. He is a batsman regarded as one of the best in the shorter forms of the game. The limits on bowlers and restrictions on fields allow his dominance. In the test arena, his incompleteness is exposed. Like Khawaja, his inability to show dexterity in the subtleties of batting for run accumulation exposes him.
It is easy to cite other similar examples. The key indicator is their effect on the prospects of teams, as highlighted by dominance at home and struggles away.