x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Sixes in cricket: a case of too many and too often

Batsmen such as Chris Gayle are hitting boundaries at a thunderous rate, and that is chipping away at the worth of the stroke.

Chris Gayle hits yet another six. What a surprise! Manjunath Kiran / AFP
Chris Gayle hits yet another six. What a surprise! Manjunath Kiran / AFP

The greatest six I never saw was hit by Majid Khan, off Dennis Lillee at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January, 1977. It went clean over deep square leg, sending Pakistan on their way to a first-ever Test win in Australia.

Majid actually top-edged it, just off his nose and in the middle of a celebrated joust with the ferocious Lillee, in which he had offered the Australian his floppy hat should it be knocked off by a bouncer (it was, and he did).

But it was the greatest because it came in what was a defining moment: a small chase in a win which said to the world Pakistan had become a serious Test nation.

The first mis-hit six I actually saw on television was another top-edged hook, by another Pakistani batsman in Australia. This was authored by that little dynamo of a batsman, Qasim Umar, no height but all cut and hook, and affectionately nicknamed "Disco".

He was beaten for pace by the West Indian Tony Gray in Perth, so much so that though the ball described a high arc, it went only a little to the left of the wicketkeeper in angle.

Umar kissed the edge of his bat, smiling acknowledgment to being beaten, but being alive.

The greatest six I have seen is easy: it came off the bat of Javed Miandad and it came not far from here, which is about all that needs to be said about it.

The gutsiest six I have seen was by MS Dhoni in the abomination of a Test between Pakistan and India in Faisalabad in 2006.

Shoaib Akhtar was in a mood and decided to go short at Dhoni early in his innings. Dhoni edged one nervously for four, pulled another for an unconvincing two and then missed an offering.

But off his seventh ball he played the kind of stroke that came to define him, a flat-pulled six from off his neck.

It looked a lot better live than it does on Youtube, and in the open-air press box at the bowling end. It sounded like the crack of a pistol shot.

India were in trouble, Dhoni was only in his fifth Test and Shoaib was bowling one of his last, really scary quick spells, a six that was fearless, calm and emphatic.

And though I am suspicious of the desire and methodology used to measure hits, I do not think I have seen a bigger six than the one Shahid Afridi hit recently, out of Johannesburg and into Zimbabwe.

I log these memories because I might forget them amid the avalanche of sixes cricket brings today.

Perhaps the six is feeling particularly ubiquitous right now during an ongoing IPL season. As if to prove the point, three minutes after turning on the TV to the IPL, a six was hit somewhere by someone, off someone else.

That is not meant to belittle the modern propensity to hit and keep hitting sixes. In fact, whatever the length of boundaries and the improvements in bat technology, that facet of modern-day batting is little short of remarkable, especially in the range of angles in which they are delivered.

The problem is that, like Elizabeth Taylor's husbands, the more there are of them, and each so soon after the last one, each individual blow becomes merely a statistic to eventually be swallowed up as part of a greater statistic.

So we generally end up remembering that Chris Gayle hit so many sixes in an innings in an IPL season in which there were so many sixes,that we maybe forget the amazing shot he hit off a low, straight full toss, high and long over extra cover.

Which is a shame, because each and every six is like a little mini-triumph, usually operating isolated within the broader narratives of the triumph and loss of a match, or even a duel with a bowler, in itself.

In organised cricket, I remember only one six that I hit during five years of school and club cricket: ambling down the pitch, swinging over long-on and not even feeling the weight of it. But I remember it mostly because it felt like what Adam Gilchrist once said about hitting sixes.

"There is a point in time when you, and you only, know the rest know it a second later and it's the best feeling as a batsman," he said, after having completed a century of Test sixes in 2007 against Sri Lanka.

"You know you took a risk. If it pays off, it usually pays reasonable dividends and is satisfying."

Somewhere between that quote and now, the six has lost something. Each one feels less and less like a risk now, or even an act of desperation, or an expression of personality Gayle and Shahid Afridi excepted.

It still provides gratification, but it is instant and gone before you know it, carrying the coldness of a business transaction: you bowl to me, I hit you for six.


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