Can T20 groom genuine allrounders?

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

WHEN Hugh Page walked out to bat fielders would chug in the opposite direction – to the boundary they knew he would try to clear sooner rather than later.

Page was a fast bowler of that old-fashioned religion, of fire with the ball and brimstone with the bat, owner of a first-class batting average of 22.96 but also of nine half-centuries; most of them smote more than they were stroked.

Not that he was a bona fide basher. Page top-scored with 60 for Essex at Chelmsford in 1987 in an innings in which Graham Gooch was bowled for a duck by Imran Khan, who led a Pakistani attack that also featured Wasim Akram.

Twice in the cauldron of Transvaal’s matches against Western Province he walked out to bat past those chugging fielders and returned with a half-century.

Were Page playing T20 cricket today he would struggle not to be classified as an allrounder. He would be up there with Chris Morris, David Wiese and, in another sense, Quinton de Kock.

“I would love that,” Page said.

But that love was conditional on us not getting ahead of ourselves. T20, Page said, was no place to breed genuine allrounders.

“It’s stuck at that level because the art of cricket has been lost with T20 – when to attack, when to defend, when to bring certain bowlers back into the game to give yourself a chance of bowling the opposition out if the game looks like fading away.

“All that sort of thing is gone because it’s all about bowling to restrict the runs to as few as you can and getting as many runs as you can when you’re batting.”

If that sounds like Page is looking down his nose, he is – at a game in which the top-rated allrounders are Ravichandran Ashwin and Shakib al Hassan, who are nowhere near the class of Imran Khan and Wasim Akram.

“T20 is great from a spectator’s point of view and there are batting skills that are unbelievable, but they can’t can be carried over to the purer form of the game,” Page said.

Eric Simons was closer to a classical allrounder than Page. But their opinions chimed on the chances of T20 giving cricket proper allrounders.

“You don’t often improve the batting skills of your bowlers in T20,” Simons said. “Test cricket is where allround skills are honed, rather than the other way round.

“Test cricket depends on technique whereas T20 is an outcome-based game: it doesn’t matter how the ball gets to the boundary as long as it does.”

Simons, now a coach, said he worked on “detoxing” bowlers who had overdosed on T20, “getting them to spend time on getting back to their basics”.

Even the best could fall victim to this malady, Simons said: “I believe Dale Steyn has lost something from his bowling because of T20, in which bowlers need to be so innovative that it messes with their heads.”

Best we don’t let it mess with our idea of an allrounder.

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