Is Pinch Hitter concept in One Day Cricket on its way out

Who is a pinch Hitter;  Normally it’s a lower order batsman promoted up the order to take risks and score quick runs. Since he takes much more risk there are more chances of his being out in this quest for quick runs. This risk is seen as acceptable by the Batting side captain.

What’s the objective – To reduce the asking rate when the side batting first has put up a big score.  However, sometimes the side batting first may also adopt this tactic.

Any other thoughts behind the move ; Even if the pinch hitter gets out, there is not much of a major problem as the regular, established batsmen are still there to continue doing the job assigned to them. Batting captains may also feel that there is a possibility of some overs of better bowlers spent on non-established batsmen.

Who is the 1st Pinch Hitter Is it India’s very own K Sreekanth. Remember his taking on the fearsome West Indian Bowlers in the 1983 World Cup.  Or is it Vivian Richards, whom many call the best ODI Player of all time. One issue strikes me. Sreekanth was a regular opener, not someone promoted to pinch-hit. Likewise Viv Richards was a regular Number 3. Whereas a pinch hitter is promoted up the order to take risks and increase the run rate.

My view on who the 1st  pinch hitter was  I personally think the concept was planned and executed first by Martin Crowe in the 1992 World Cup when he asked his middle order batsman Mark Greatbatch to open. Possibly this was necessitated due to injury of regular opener John Wright. Anyways, Mark Greatbach “ironically” became Cricket’s first pinch-hitter. I have used the word ironically deliberately as only couple of years back, at fast Perth, with his side following on, against an attack of Lawson, Alderman, Rackeman and Hughes, Greatbatch played 655 minutes and 485 balls to score a patient 146 not out at a strike rate of 30.1 to get his side an invaluable draw. The same dour batsmen was transformed in 1992 World Cup when throughout he played aggressive cricket at the start of the innings and majorly contributed to success of his team to reach semi-finals.

Then came not one but two Pinch Hitters The wily Arjuna Ranatunga took a step forward in 1996 world cup by unleashing  2 pinch-hitters at the top of the batting order. Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharne redefined the concept of slog overs by  scoring quickly right at the start of the innings- from both ends. This worked spectacularly and the Lankans went on to become world champions in that year’s Cup.

Tactic followed by all.  With the Sri Lankans spectacular success, the concept of pinch hitters evoked interest. Soon cricket saw most nations employing this ploy. Pakistan experimented with Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq, South Africans with Lance Klusener while West Indians had Kieron Pollard. India too once took the gamble of sending MS Dhoni at No.3 requiring a chase of 299 and the wicket-keeper responded with an attacking 183 not out. Subsequently however Dhoni evolved into a finisher which of course is a different story. Among current cricketers, one has to mention the incredibly talented Glenn Maxwell who can change the course of a match within minutes. Australians have experimented with him sometimes at top of the order.

Further evolution With the success of Greatbatch, Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharna, other teams realised the importance of having players at the top of the order who can pile up runs quickly. Players like Hayden, Gilchrist ,  Sehwag and David Warner began to bat at the top of the order for their countries with distinction and success, playing spectacularly fast cricket. One has to of course mention Chris Gayle, who deals with only Sixes, Boundaries and singles. Brendon Mccullum too can be thought about as one more incredible master blaster at the top of the order.  The blasters of the past seemed in fact slow in comparison. For instance Sreekanth’s 38 in 1983 world cup final took him 57 balls. The middle order too  saw aggressive batsmen like AB De Villiers and Kevin Pietersen taking the attack to the opposition and playing super fast cricket at a bewildering pace.

Shock value wearing off ? Arguably Yes. Bowling Captains and bowlers realise that with a cool mind and proper application, the chance of getting the pinch hitter out is quite high. There is also a chance that Batsmen who saw pinch hitters promoted above them may feel demotivated. Furthermore the pinch hitter may take his promotion too seriously and try to play like an established batsman. One instance which comes to mind is Srinath versus South Arica in which he scored 53 in 69 balls. Surely an established batsman like Dravid or Azhar or Jadeja over whom he was promoted could have done that too and maybe gone on to hit a match-winning 100.

It is also possible that by promoting a pinch hitter, are we running the risk of losing the bowling skills of a bowler, which is his main job. Irfan Pathan can be considered a case study. The last point, for me, is that earlier with conventional cricket and players playing along the ground there was a need for pinch hitters who could hit over the top. Nowadays everyone does it. So why use a pinch hitter.

Conclusion All said and done, the pinch hitter remains what it is. An Option. To be used or not at the discretion of the batting captain.  Overall it’s an acceptable risk, to be left to the wisdom and discretion of the batting captain, to be used judiciously and not too frequently, so as to retain the shock element . Yes, the use of the concept has probably decreased in recent times, but it is too early to say it’s on its way out

What is your View ?

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