The Champions League T20 hasn’t even started, and already there’s been more controversy off the field than on it. No, there’s no bonus or fixing saga, but there is the question of bowlers enjoying batsmen getting hit. Believe it. By ANT SIMS.
You’d never think there was a global – or somewhat global – cricket tournament happening in South Africa right now. Despite being bombarded with cringeworthy billboards claiming that it’s time to “klap it”, very few people were in fact klapping it at the Champions League T20 qualifiers at The Wanderers on Monday.
Of course, they are only qualifiers. Of course it is a week day and, of course, it had been raining in Johannesburg until the cricket started. But one would still assume that more people than one could count on two hands would have showed up for one of the more tightly contested matches of the series.
The tournament officially kicks off on Sunday, but a number of teams still have to qualify for a spot in the main draw. Yorkshire, Uva Next, Auckland Aces, Siallkot Stallions, Hampshire and Trinidad & Tobago are currently wrestling for two qualifying spots. The rest of the teams – four from India, two from Australia and two from South Africa – have already qualified; things will get started with a feisty tussle between the Titans from South Africa and the Perth Scorchers from Australia on the weekend.
The qualifiers got off to a heated start, with early-season South African wickets offering plenty of pace and bounce for the bowlers, but just enough juice for the batsmen. And the first qualifier, in which Yorkshire took on Uva Next, caused as much fuss off the field as it did on it.
In short, David Miller was struck in the face by a shorter delivery from Umar Gul. With blood gushing out of his nose, Miller had to leave the field. The bowler had immediately checked that the batsman was all right, and while he was icing his nose, West Indies bowler Tino Best tweeted: "David Miller u think GuL is a County Medium Pacer that u beat around #HaveRespect #SeriousPace Love to see batmen getting hit #awesome" (sic).
Cue a massive debate surrounding Best’s response – ranging from him being a sick sadist to others supporting the notion. His comment does, of course, raise an interesting point. In a game where batsmen dominate, where do bowlers stand, and what pleasure do they derive from seeing batsmen get struck down?
There is a fine line between enjoying seeing somebody get hit and applauding a horrific injury. Nobody in their right mind wants to see somebody else get hurt, but in a format tailor-made for batsmen, is it okay for bowlers to get some sort of pleasure out of hitting their opponents?
“I loved hitting people. I never liked hitting people in the head, though, and whenever I did, I would always check to make sure they were okay.
“Getting struck down is all part of the game, and I think batsmen accept that, but it’s important for the bowlers to make sure their opponent is okay. You're the first on the scene of what could be a potentially fatal situation,” Iain O’Brien, former New Zealand quick, told The Daily Maverick.
In Test cricket, the tactic of targeting batsmen is nothing new. Just ask the English from their time of bodyline bowling, or the West Indies of old, who used to bounce players who weren’t wearing protective gear.
South African fast bowler Dale Steyn infamously told Sachin Tendulkar: "I'm going to knock your fucking head off, Sachin."
Cricket is an intricate battle which involves as many mental aspects as it does physical, and while nobody (one hopes) wants to see anybody get injured – in any sport – there is some excitement in seeing a fierce battle between bat and ball, even if that involves a couple of body blows.
“There's an element of enjoying the big hits in sports like rugby and American Football, for instance. As long as everyone is okay, a head adds to the spice, and we all like spice,” said O’Brien.
“It adds something to the game, because we don't often we see pitches that are quick enough to allow bowlers to hit batsmen who can bat.”
Miller strolled back out to the crease a short while after being hit, and he promptly dispatched an unlucky bowler for two fours and a six and took Yorkshire to victory. It was the best and bravest response Miller could have given.
Ultimately, though, a bowler’s job is to take wickets. Different bowlers will employ different tactics to do so, and while specifically targeting somebody to hurt them is wrong, one can’t blame bowlers for getting a bit of a kick of seeing a good batsman being brought to his knees. Yet just because they like it, doesn’t mean everybody watching it has to. DM
Photo: David Miller plays a shot during the second One Day International (ODI) cricket match against Australia in Port Elizabeth October 23, 2011. Miller was struck in the face by a shorter delivery from Umar Gul on Monday. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko