One of the keys to properly functioning club and village cricket is ensuring a result – getting the overs bowled and, yes, playing your shots and scoring runs.
Anyone who has played amateur cricket will have encountered those who appear to be playing for themselves – either going out swinging from ball one when a bit of discipline is in order, or the reverse; self-preservation when the team needs someone to take a few risks.
It is the latter we are going to celebrate in this blog – the dying art of the blocker and the painfully slow innings.
Blocking, leaving and digging in – a dying art
There’s something undeniably glorious about a slow innings. These painstaking, obdurate and snail-paced dig-ins are almost – almost – becoming a thing of the past in modern cricket, as T20 opens up an array of new shots and ways to score quickly – but we think they should be celebrated.
Naturally attacking batsmen capable of shutting up shop must be admired
Last December, two of cricket’s finest batsmen – attacking batsmen, no less – held the most remarkable of fourth innings vigils. Trying desperately to save a Test match in India, South Africa’s Hashim Amla made 25 off 244 balls, while AB de Villiers – arguably the most devastating and brutal batsman in the world – compiled a comparatively quickfire 43 off 297 deliveries.
Amla took a sensational 45 balls to get off the mark and, at one point during their partnership, the pair had amassed fully 23 runs off 176 balls (29.2 overs) – making it the lowest run rate for any Test partnership of 175 balls or more.
Their doggedness was in vain, however, as South Africa lost the match having been bowled out for 143 off 143.1 overs. Despite the defeat, it was a display of heroic defiance that will go down in history.
Celebrating Slow Innings with Chris Tavaré – who wants to score runs anyway?
In the pantheon of English cricket, it is Geoffrey Boycott who springs most readily to mind when thinking of heroic blockers and leavers. My own personal favourite is Chris Tavaré – the tall, moustachioed Kent and England opener who blocked and blocked and blocked like his life depended on it. He would bat for literally days on end, giving the distinct impression that he thought scoring runs was all rather vulgar and distasteful.
Tavaré burst onto the Test scene at Lord’s in 1980 when he made 42 in five hours against a fearsome West Indies pace attack. Imagine exposing yourself to such terror for so long and for such a paltry score. It can surely only be admired.
Tavaré’s dig-ins are the stuff of legend. His five-and-a-half hour fifty against Pakistan in 1982 – off 236 balls – is the second slowest half-century in the history of the game. Yet that knock is positively T20 compared to Tavaré’s 35 off 240 balls in India. Of those 240 balls, Tavaré despatched three to the boundary. He batted for six-and-a-half hours for his 35 – a scoring rate of 14 runs per hundred balls – and the match, unsurprisingly, petered out into a draw
The match situation was never of any concern to a narcissistic blocker like Tavaré. He was a top order batsman, incumbent upon him to score runs – but bar the odd aberration he always blocked. Of course, a tail-ender digging in to save his team from defeat is an entirely different thing, but we can still laugh. Who could ever forget New Zealand’s Geoff Allott when, in 1999 versus South Africa, he was dismissed for 0 off 77 balls in 101 minutes? It remains the longest duck in the history of Test cricket.
An ODI dig-in is especially admirable
The recent Twenty20 World Cup showcased some fearsome hitting and rapid-fire scoring, but one-day cricket wasn’t always like this.
In the 1975 World Cup, Dennis Amiss smashed a brilliant 137 against India as he lead England to the then highest ever score in one-day cricket – a daunting 334-4.
India had been set a fearsome target to chase, but the legendary Sunil Gavaskar – opening the batting for India – had little interest in demeaning himself with a run chase. He duly carried his bat for the full 60 overs – chiselling out an unbeaten 36 off 177 balls as the Indians crawled their way to a frankly hilarious 132-3.
Where are the next generation of blockers coming from?
Cricket is changing before our eyes – new shots and new techniques continue to emerge, inspired by batsmen like Kevin Pietersen and the madness of T20. But where are the next Tavares, Boycotts and Gavaskars coming from? Defence will be always be an intrinsic part of any Test batsman’s make up, but it appears the serial blocker will soon be a thing of the past.
So let’s raise a bat to these immovable, bloody-minded and obdurate heroes while we still have a few left. Cricket just wouldn’t be the same without them.
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