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The complete batsman – From AB de Villiers’ footwork to Kane Williamson’s balance

Cricket has always had an inherent bias towards batsmen. While it is very much an equal game between bat and ball, it is batsmen who have more often than not managed to capture the imagination of the masses.

Be it Sir Don Bradman, Sir Viv Richards or the legendary Sachin Tendulkar, those who wield the willow have always enjoyed far greater adulation compared to their bowling counterparts.

As the cliché goes, batting is an artform in which the batsman grips his bat like a paintbrush. With the entire cricket field a blank canvas, the batsman paints his masterpiece through the form of varied and elegant strokes.

What does make a complete or perfect batsman though? With an array of orthodox and unorthodox shots available, it is hard to settle on a unanimous answer to this question. Every batsman, including the greats, has his respective strengths and it is hard for anyone to achieve fluency in every single aspect of batsmanship.

Some batsmen are particularly strong on one side of the pitch, while others have a more all-round game. Some are particularly effective against spin, while others are more comfortable against pace. Batsmen who excel in subcontinental conditions might struggle in the swinging conditions of England, New Zealand and South Africa. Similarly, batsmen at their best against swing might have their troubles on Australian wickets which have more bounce.

Very few, if any, batsman can lay claim to have all the shots in the book while being adept at facing all kinds of bowling attacks in varied conditions. In recent memory, it is South Africa’s AB de Villiers who comes closest to this with his ‘360 degree’ strokeplay.

While it is near impossible to define what a complete batsman is, we have attempted to create the nearest version. To do this, we have taken the seven most important attributes of the batting elites from the current generation.

FOOTWORK

AB de Villiers (South Africa)

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Footwork is one the most important traits to being a successful batsman.

Those who are light on the feet and can adjust their footwork at the very last second, have a greater ability to manouvre the ball around the field. Those with good footwork can rock on the frontfoot or backfoot depending on the length of the delivery and get themselves into the perfect position to execute a shot.

When it comes to footwork, it is hard to look beyond AB de Villiers whose nimble feet allow him to execute nearly all the shots in the book.

BALANCE

Kane Williamson (New Zealand)

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Having the right balance at the crease is vital for a batsman and allows him to be in the best position to meet the ball.

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Some batsmen have a tendency to fall over while going on the frontfoot while others can get themselves into a tangle when attempting to go on the back-foot to meet a shorter delivery.

It is important to note that balance and footwork are closely connected and good batsmanship usually arrives from the combination of the two factors.

Among current batsmen, Blackcaps skipper Kane Williamson can lay claim to having the best balance at the crease.

The right-hander is equally comfortable on the front and back foot, and is highly successful in getting into the best position to face every delivery.

HAND-EYE CO-ORDINATION

Steve Smith (Australia)

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An understated quality in batting is that of hand-eye co-ordination. An excellence with this trait can allow batsmen to even overcome any footwork deficiencies. Balance, however, is still vital for players who rely more on their hand-eye co-ordination.

In the past, players such as Virender Sehwag have managed to succeed with minimal footwork, largely due to their stellar hand-eye co-ordination. Among current players, India star Rohit Sharma is among the better batsmen who excel in this trait. However, it is arguably Steve Smith of Australia who has the best hand-eye co-ordination in the game at present.

His style is the most unorthodox and even bordering on ugly at times, but there is no arguing that it is effective as his humongous run and century tallies show. His trigger movement at the time of delivery towards the off-stump constantly leaves him vulnerable to the LBW dismissals. Yet the Aussie star keeps picking off the deliveries to the on-side with absolute precision. His risky, yet highly productive batting style is testament to his excellent hand-eye co-ordination.

DEFENCE

Dean Elgar (South Africa)

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For a Test batsman in particular, having a solid defence is crucial to play the long innings. The defence is important when looking to block out deliveries, especially those that are directed at the stumps and force the batsman to play the ball.

There are several contenders for the best defence among the current generation, with India’s Cheteshwar Pujara having a good claim. However, South Africa opener Dean Elgar is one to emulate in this regard given his success in treacherous conditions.

For an opener, there has hardly been a more difficult place to bat in recent times than in South Africa. With the ball constantly jagging about in such conditions, having a good defence has been key to Elgar’s relative success compared to his contemporaries.

While he might not be the most certain against spin, Elgar has been highly successful in thwarting some quality pace attacks over the years with his quality defence.

TIMING

Rohit Sharma (India)

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Good timing with the bat can be the difference between an exquisitely crafted boundary and a miscued shot in the air. It is not a skill which can taught, but one which can be perfected through countless hours of batting in nets.

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Perfectly timed shots are always easy on the eye as they meet the ball with devastating effect. They are generally the cleanest hitters of the cricket ball and can compensate for the lack of muscle power through sheer timing.

Among the current crop of batsmen, Rohit Sharma has arguably the best timing and the evidence can be seen in how cleanly he hits the ball.

Despite not being the most muscular of players, the India star has a penchant for racking up the sixes and boundaries through his impeccable trait.

POWER

Andre Russell (West Indies)

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Sometimes brute force alone can compensate for the lack of timing. When there is plenty of muscle behind the ball, even miscued shots can end up sailing over the ropes to result in a six.

Not every player is blessed with this trait which is particularly handy in limited-overs cricket. With the advent of T20 cricket and its largely standardised pitches, powerful batsmen have become an in-demand commodity.

Power behind their shots has been the recipe to success for the likes of Shahid Afridi and Chris Gayle, though it is West Indies all-rounder Andre Russell who looks the most menacing in this regard.

The Jamaican is an absolute unit who can give the ball a fair whack, and no boundary length is too large to stop his rampant power. The distance he achieves with his sixes is immense, and it is easy to see why he has become a massive success in T20 cricket.

RUNNING BETWEEN THE WICKETS

MS Dhoni (India)

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Not all runs have to be scored via boundaries, with running between the wickets now equally important. Given how every run counts in cricket, converting the ones into twos and the twos into threes can prove to be crucial in the end.

This is a trait which was not given enough credence previously, but it is now considered to be one of the very basics with the advanced fitness regimes and standards which have crept into modern cricket.

The likes of David Warner, Steve Smith and Virat Kohli are all some of the best runners between the wicket at present. Yet, this trait is best seen in India veteran MS Dhoni, who converted running between the wickets into an art.

Even at the age of 37, Dhoni’s lightening quick running between the wickets can give competition to some of the sprightly youngsters in the game.

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