We have this theory that the more ungainly and awkward a new Test batsman looks, the more likely he is to succeed. Our reasoning is that if you’ve made it to the highest level looking as awful as that, you can only be a highly effective run-scorer.
Some batsmen are given a bit of extra credit. Unfurl a smooth cover drive and you can guarantee that someone, somewhere will say that you have “a touch of class” about you.
“Class” is for the most part a nebulous, meaningless thing that invisibly bolsters some batsmen’s first-class averages in the eyes of selectors. Those without it have to do things the hard way – by being good at batting.
England’s Rory Burns is not, for most people, a delight to watch.
Most obviously, there’s the twitch. Every time the bowler runs in, an invisible foe makes as if to break Burns’ neck before apparently thinking better of it.
He says this jerky head movement is because he’s ‘left eye dominant,’ so it’s an effort to get his head a bit further round so he can actually use the thing. It looks stupid, but he has gradually been adapting to Test cricket and when fit, he is now England’s first choice at the top of the order.
Most people think that Dom Sibley faces the wrong way and that he holds his bat like a man who’s never held a cricket bat before. But again, it seems to work for him.
His early Tests were marked by much talk about how he “couldn’t access the off-side” with his idiosyncratic technique. When he made his first Test hundred, against South Africa, he revealed that he very much could. The one shot he seems unable to play is the pointless defensive stroke with an angled bat to balls missing his off stump.
We don’t really know about technique. Fortunately, we’re lucky enough to be aware of our ignorance. A lot of commentators and pundits think they know about technique, but all they really do is measure a batsman against textbook technique and point out differences. That’s not the same thing.
There are different ways to make the hitting of cricket balls work.
How many times have you heard a dissection of an unconventional but effective batsman’s technique where they go, “Actually, at the point he strikes the ball, his head’s in a great position and he’s well balanced and everything’s magical and perfect and great”?
It happens all the time. They always do this after-the-fact analysis once a batsman’s proved himself an effective run-scorer. Until they’re racking up hundreds, quirks are seen as flaws.
Burns and Sibley together are weirdness squared. If they stick around for the next few years, theirs will rank up there with the most aesthetically displeasing opening partnerships of all time.
Without exhaustive research, two of the crabbier prose-in-motion openers of recent times have been South Africa’s Graeme Smith and Australia’s Simon Katich. We’re not sure either ever really had a partner who was in a similar league.
No-one was going out of their way to watch Alviro Petersen or Neil McKenzie bat with Smith, but neither was especially unconventional. Katich did most of his opening with Shane Watson, whose technique was as straight as the balls that tended to dismiss him.
If you’ve any nominations for the greatest aesthetically displeasing opening partnership of all time, please let us know in the comments below.