What does ‘having time’ mean in batting?

Karnataka batsman KL Rahul is a fantastic example of why timing is important in cricket
news Sports Wednesday, March 29, 2017 - 18:18

Time – an unassuming four-letter word on the face of it, and yet, carrying infinite meaning. From Pink Floyd’s classic that talks of how well it is spent or how badly it is wasted, to several great writings on the subject, the word appears to significantly blend itself into various aspects of life.

In sport – racket sport especially – possessing it is considered a gift. For, it amounts to having that rare ability to make the seemingly impossible possible, while making it look easy, and it is this aspect that, in many ways, sets apart great players.

Visualise Lin Dan converting a counter drop in a combination of anticipation and reflex, or Roger Federer’s forehand, down-the-line winner after seemingly being nowhere close to the ball at first. They make it appear awfully easy, as if it were a matter of routine. To us, though, they are moments that will last a lifetime.

Batting in cricket has a lot to do with timing – the ability to get into the right position at the right time. Possessing time, however, is altogether a different matter. In most cases, it is a gift – that rare ability to judge length early.

KL Rahul, India’s opening batsman from Karnataka, who scored six fifties in seven innings and topped the average for the home side with 65.50 (393 runs) in the just-concluded four-Test series against Australia, is clearly blessed with it.

What does ‘having time’ mean in batting?

“Seeing the ball early and playing it late is what it is,” CS Suresh Kumar, the former Tamil Nadu opener and National Cricket Academy Level 3 certified coach, told The News Minute. “Most of the successful international batsmen have this quality.”

WV Raman, the former Test opener and batting coach at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, believes that a batsman will have time when his initial movements are minimal before he decisively makes a move.

“Take (Virender) Sehwag, Sachin (Tendulkar), Rahul (Dravid), they all had so much time,” said 51-year-old Raman, who played 11 Tests and 27 ODIs between 1988 and 1997. “Sehwag, in fact, didn’t have a trigger (initial) movement. It was always one decisive move for him – either front foot or back.”

Raman believes there is a relation between a batsman having time and his timing in striking the ball. “It’s two links in a chain, actually,” said the former Tamil Nadu skipper.

Saad Bin Jung, who as a schoolboy scored a century for South Zone against a West Indies pace attack that included Malcolm Marshall and Vanburn Holder, describes having time as an “inherent talent.”

“Some have it, some don’t,” said the 56-year-old Jung, who is now a Bengaluru-based conservationist and author. However, Jung, nephew of the late MAK Pataudi, feels the absence of it can be compensated by achieving a strong foundation technically and sharpening one’s instincts.

“It’s about training one’s instincts, backed by a strong technical foundation, and when the two fall in place it allows a batsman to be in a good position to play a delivery. It’s a lot of hard training, though,” Jung added.

At 24 years of age, and with four centuries and seven fifties to show from 17 Tests, Rahul has been hailed as one with tremendous potential. “He’s got something special. He is a serious talent,” former Team India director Ravi Shastri said last month.

Rahul has also scored international centuries in ODI and T20I.

"He certainly has a lot of time,” Jung said. “To me, as of now he falls in between Murali Vijay, who is closest to the perfect Test opener in contemporary cricket, and Virat Kohli, who has pretty much redefined technique.

“Undoubtedly Rahul is someone with tremendous potential. You got to give it that it is tough being an opener in all three formats, for each call for a different approach. IPL has its impacts. I feel he opens up a little too much in Test cricket, but I’m sure he’ll sort that out,” concluded Jung.

The 57-year-old Kumar, who is batting coach at the TNCA Academy, feels Rahul’s biggest strength lies in his ability to play the ball as late as possible. “He allows the ball to come on to him, he doesn’t hurry… is rarely forced into a shot.”

Raman feels Rahul’s strength is his mind. “He’s positive in his approach, he’s looking to play a punch at least and is free-flowing. Being positive is not about smashing the ball around. He is positive in his mind.”

Sanjay Rajan has written on sport for over two decades.

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