When K.S Ranjitsinhji mastered the innovative leg-glance towards the end of the 19th century his contemporaries and critics called it a un-Christian stroke. A shot that defied tradition by pushing the ball further in its direction was not a customary cricket shot. In those days, batsmen simply did not play across the line, and captains rarely ever posted more than two men on the leg. According to The History of Sport in Britain, 1880-1914, “each player have made a speciality (style) of some particular stroke. The criterion of style was a certain fixed method of play. It was bad cricket to hit a straight ball; as for pulling a slow long-hop, it was regarded immoral. WG Grace united in his mighty self all the good points of all the good players and to make utility the criterion of style”. What defines utility for a batsman is to score runs, no matter how.
In the 21st century, the limited-overs format has dominated cricket. The game is witnessing innovative shots in abundance. Few of the players have mastered these so well that certain shots are associated with them. Paddle scoop by Douglas Marillier, Dilscoop by Tillakaratne Dilshan, Switch-Hit by Kevin Pietersen, and Reverse scoop by AB de Villiers are a few popular ones. What started as a rare occurrence in the ODI format is a norm now in T20 cricket. Hardly a T20 game is played without any unorthodox shot being played.
Pull, on-drive, flick and leg-glance - the shots those were considered to be non-cricketing in the early years of the game - are now the most sought-after ones in T20 cricket. The pull shot has emerged as the most productive in the shortest format of the game, especially in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
17.21% of overall runs in IPL are scored by pulling the ball – the most for any shot type. Contribution of this shot goes up to 19.91% against pace bowlers. Pull, flick & leg-glance and on-drive contribute to 45.52% of runs in IPL overall. Close to one fifth (20%) of runs against seamers by the top-7 batsmen in the batting order have come from the pull with a strike rate of 201 and average of 27.50.
Since seamers bowl 65% of deliveries, take 66% of wickets and concede equal amount of runs in IPL, let us shift our focus on the most productive shot by batsmen against the quick bowlers.
Great reward comes with a greater risk
Nothing is an unmixed blessing. There is no reward without risk. So is the case with the pull shot in IPL. Among all shot types against pacers, the pull shot not only contributes a lion share (20.02%) to a batsmen’s runs but is also the cause of most downfalls. Almost 27% of wickets among the top-order (1-7) against seam have fallen to the pull shot.
Sweep, reverse sweep and switch-hit are shots that are meant for spin bowling and are expected to provide a very low return against the seamers. What’s the reason behind the pull shot becoming the preferred shot given the risk involved? T20 is a game of risk-taking and power hitters. According to former India cricketer Aakash Chopra, “Bottom hand allows more power. The pull is a definite run-scoring shot—if connected. Drive can go to covers and mid-off. Cut can go to point. Pull is either a boundary or a run at all stages of the game. Rarely do we see a pull getting stopped for no run in the circle.” Pull shot provides a boundary every 3.1 deliveries- best balls-per-boundary-ratio among shots that have got a minimum 7000 runs against seamers and has the 2nd lowest dot-ball% among all shots against seam.
Pull and flick & leg-glance have dominated the shot types in which the batsmen tend to score more runs. But between these two shot types, the pull is becoming the most preferred shot among batsmen. Other than 2016, the pull shot has dominated and there is a steady increase since the 2016 IPL.
Who plays the pull shot best?
David Warner, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma are the three top aggregators of runs while playing the pull shot. David Warner scores 20.71% of runs against seamers while playing the pull with an average of 47.2 and strike rate of 223. De Villiers, known as Mr 360, in IPL because of his array of shots is least dependent on the pull shot but his remarkable average of 54.4 gives an indication of how perfectly he plays the shot.
Rohit who has scored the 3rd highest runs in IPL off pull shots against seamers is one of the best executioners of the shot. He has the best strike rate (267) among top 30 run-scorers off pull shots and hits a boundary every 2.3 deliveries when he tries to pull. In terms of control, he is slightly behind Warner and Raina but his better boundary-scoring ability of a pull keeps him ahead of his other two main competitors.
The onside play
Batting in T20 cricket is increasingly dependent on power hitters. Some batsmen do that with grace and technique and some apply just brute force. While the pull shot has become the most productive shot against seamers in IPL, the onside play has dominated the IPL too. The four most dominant shot on the onside are pull, flick, leg-glance and the on-drive. Among the top 10 run-scorers in IPL, five of them have more than 50% of runs scored from these three shots. If sweep and hook are included the numbers are bound to go further north.
Robin Uthappa has scored 54% and Suresh Raina 53% of their runs against seamers from the pull, flick, leg-glance and on-drive. AB de Villiers is least dependent on on-side play against the seamers provides an indication of the number of strokes he has in his armoury. Power-hitters like Warner, Dhoni and Gayle use pull shot more often than touch players like Kohli and Gambhir - who play more flicks and on-drives. The team and think-tank have a better understanding of T20 cricket now what they had a decade ago. The demand for power-hitters is only going to grow in the future.