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Opinion

Cricket’s revolution: The paradox of batting ‘stump-high’

Roar Rookie
17th January, 2020
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Roar Rookie
17th January, 2020
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Don’t dismiss this article as the ravings of a cricket lunatic who didn’t wear a helmet and got struck on the head a few times.

Just put aside all your ideas of how the game should played.

I watched the 2015 video of AB de Villiers smashing the ball to all corners of the ground on his way to making the fastest century in ODI cricket. Just 31 balls of brutal elegance.

In particular, he moved way outside off stump and sat back inside his crease. It was then, in 2018 as I watched the de Villiers video, that the first crystals of a new way to bat started to form. I videoed myself arguing the case.

Why is it that batsmen have always positioned themselves between the bowler and the stumps? Why? Tell me. It may be natural to stand in the way of the attacker and what you’re trying to protect.

Perhaps in the 1800’s when the pitch was of dubious quality and the ball could bounce in unpredictable ways, it may have been an advantage to stand in front of the stumps and wear multiple bruises just to prevent being bowled. But today, on flat tracks and body protection?

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I concluded that the best place to bat was to stand beside off stump; that’s it, batting stump-high. Paradoxically, what seems an absolutely stupid notion, actually works. My conviction grew stronger as I watched Steve Smith demolish England in the 2019 Ashes series, averaging an invincible 110.

Smith played from way outside off stump and back in the crease. Why not go further with the de Villiers/Smith approach and start from a position next to off stump?

I am convinced that batting ‘stump-high’ is the best approach – keep reading and try to argue otherwise. Batting level with the stumps has the potential to completely change the way the game is played. It would force changes in the laws that control the game, change how a bowler approaches the task of dismissing a batsman, alter field settings, have implications for equipment and require a review of the safety of players.

The batsman stands ‘square on’ next to off stump, with both feet facing down the pitch and crossing the line of the stumps around midfoot. Forward and backward movements with a straight bat are also chest on. You need to make the reasonable assumption that a batsman has practiced stump-high batting and has gained a good feeling of ‘where the stumps are’.

There would be a greater chance of being dismissed hit wicket as any straight bat shots to the on-side would increase the chance of the inside pad hitting the stumps. Also, the inside foot could hit the stumps when the batsman was pulling or hooking. Practice would greatly reduce this risk.

Playing a ball that is pitched on a length or fuller and on leg stump or wider would present some difficulties as the stumps would restrict the shot that was possible. But what bowler would want to pitch the ball there? It isn’t going to get you out regularly and any deflection has the potential for runs.

There would be a greater chance of being bowled off the inside edge or perhaps more likely, off the pads. Perhaps the greatest risk is a ball striking the body and landing on the stumps before the batsman could intervene.

The advantages of batting next to the stumps are enormous. Just think that when you face Mitchell Starc he is slower than he was before. That’s got to be a plus. His 150 kp/h missile is reduced to a more human 143kp/h equivalent.

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But where the hell does the keeper stand? To the quicks, the keeper would be forced to stand as wide as an orthodox first slip position, or even wider, so that the ball can always be sighted out of the hand. Any deflection down the leg side, or a ball delivered wide down leg side would be very difficult to gather.

Imagine how wide the keeper would stand to Mitchell Starc bowling over the wicket. If he bowled one wide of leg stump with his normal shape I’m backing four byes.

So, if Mitch wants to attack the stumps, Fine Leg needs to be very fine to stop sundry byes raising the bat for a maiden half century. So he moves to an ‘outside off stump line’ making bowled (except for playing on) and LBW significantly out of play. Huge bonus.

With the standard seamer’s line of attack between off and sixth stump, the stump-high batsman defends forward or back as normal, but stays ‘chest on’.

Playing back, any fine nick on the outside of the bat is going to hit your body and not go to the keeper or first slip. How’s that for an advantage, taking the keeper and first slip out of the game? Bowling to ‘hit the top of off stump’ loses a lot of its potency, because the fine nick is taken out of play. Playing back, you will wear the inside edge somewhere on the body, but it won’t travel to the keeper.

If you do nick it to the keeper, you’ve defended a ball outside your body line that’s at least a half metre outside off stump, so you deserve to get out, based on stupidity.

To a large extent the same scenario applies to defending forward, where the ‘squared up’ look is now the orthodox. If you get a fine nick it should hit your back pad, thigh or hip. If you defend well with soft hands, the thicker edge shouldn’t carry to third slip.

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All these benefits arise because the ball comes straight at or ‘inside’ the batsman, and the angle that the bat comes from will direct the ball to the on-side. This effectively opens up the on side greatly and any reasonably skilled batsman can score under those circumstances.

When facing a spinner the same principles apply, except now the keeper is forced into no-man’s land. Where does the keeper stand? Not directly behind, or behind and to the offside of the batsman, that would restrict the batsman’s backward movement, that would be Obstruction.

Standing leg-side would require keeper full body armour to minimise head and upper body trauma from three pounds of willow, because in playing the pull shot, the batsman’s left foot can now land behind the stumps.

Everyone would be like Steve Smith, playing largely to the leg side, thereby forcing a 4-5 fielding configuration. That still only allows for three fieldsmen on the leg-side in front of square. Do you try a 3-6 field while you’re bowling outside off-stump? How do you get the batsman out with that field? One slip, gully and cover. Good luck.

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But there’s much more. All spinners will need to completely review how to bowl. Imagine having an additional metre of time to play a shot and being able to step backwards as far as you want and play any shot you fancy. In fact, you could back away and hit it whenever you like if you reckon it won’t hit the sticks. What would the Umpire say if you stepped back and hit the ball on the half volley a metre behind the stumps? Now that would start a conversation.

Stumping would never happen with a dragged foot over the popping crease. And would not happen at all unless the batsman advanced a long way down the pitch, then got beaten and the keeper managed to get up to the stumps! Stumped, as a method of dismissal out of the game?

No more prodding forward at the spinner and getting caught at bat-pad. Just stay back, when it’s full enough, drive it and when it’s going to hit the sticks just stand there and defend into the pitch. It’s clearly not that simple, but the advantage is significantly toward the batsman. What a range of new shots might be developed? How about the pull shot straight down the ground behind you – the keeper’s widow maker.

There is so much range of movement possible for the batsman, that the use of On side close catchers could become unacceptably dangerous. It would be a non-stop pull-a-thon when the spinners bowled, and I don’t think Short Leg or Leg Slip could exist under these circumstances.

Spinners, who may have practiced for a decade bowling a ‘length’ would now need to make an enormous adjustment. Given the greatly reduced ability to lure the batsman out of the crease, any attempt to give the ball more air would be fraught with danger as the batsman has more time to adjust and doesn’t have to go out to the ball as much.

Surely this situation would force a change in the Laws to restrict the movements of a batsman to in front of the stumps.

The quick’s yorker has always been very difficult to keep out for any level of batsman. Stump-high technique gives the batsman a far better view of the yorker because the ball isn’t ‘under the eyes’ and at your feet. So, not only does the yorker loses much of its penetration, it becomes far easier to score off, just hold the bat in front of the stumps and a leg side deflection is the likeliest outcome. If it’s a T20 game, pick your shot.

At the other end of the argument, batsman have always worried about falling onto the stumps when avoiding the short ball, batting stump-high enables the batsman to go backwards without concern of treading on the stumps. Also getting the ball under the chin is now tougher for the bowler because the ball needs to be pitched one metre further up and it will therefore bounce less.

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In T20s where the short ball can regularly be anticipated, think of the greater range and ease of shots that now become available because of the batsman available range of movement against a ball that is effectively one metre slower.

The potential for playing so many deliveries square and finer on the leg side would force a change in Law 41 that restricts to two, the number of players behind Square Leg.

This article doesn’t go close to covering the potential of batting stump-high, but I am absolutely convinced that this technique would work. I am not physically capable of testing stump-high batting so I’m waiting for someone to try it. I can’t wait to see the video.

Cricket would never be the same again. Please don’t blame me. I love the game the way it is, but someone would have thought of batting stump-high sooner or later, and the turmoil it will create needs to be discussed. Now is as good a time as any.