Big hits alone wouldn’t decide this T20 World Cup; Sachin Tendulkar details the science of running between wickets in Australia

There is one question that many ask me: why didn’t I prefer a runner to run for me? Why was it that over a 24-year career, I just used it once, in a World Cup game against Pakistan when Virender Sehwag ran for me? The answer is linked to a cricketing myth or tradition that I don’t agree with. It’s said that it’s the striker’s call when the ball is in front of the stumps and the non-striker’s call when the ball rolls behind the popping crease. I certainly don’t agree.

Wherever the ball is, it’s the batter’s call. As you know how you have played, how much force you have given, is it going to go in the gap or not – the angles the batters know better than anyone else. So, it’s the batter’s call. Would it beat the short fine-leg fielder or backward square-leg? No one knows it better than the batsman. It was the reason I didn’t like runners as I knew best when there was a run and when there wasn’t. Even in that World Cup game against Pakistan, I did run a few times even in that condition – where I couldn’t run well – as I think I am faster than the other guy even when physically less fit. As soon as the bowler has bowled the ball, in my mind, I know I have played it for a single or two. The runner can’t judge it. It gives me a head start.

Now, let’s zoom into the T20 World Cup to be played on the vast grounds in Australia. In Australia, with the grounds with different dimensions, at some places like Adelaide the straighter boundaries would be long, elsewhere the square boundaries would be longer. If you are prepared to run hard and smart, you can do wonders there.

Grounding the bat is a skill

In Australia, they are going to have drop-in pitches and on the sides, there might be thick grass. So there are two surfaces to deal with: the hard surface of the drop-in turf, and the softer one immediately next to it.

Grounding the bat is a skill in itself. On softer surfaces, the bat can invariably get stuck. Even on hard drop-in turf, there is a method to slide.

Which side of the bat to ground is key. The back side of the bat has a bigger chance of getting stuck compared to the front side, with the way the bottom edges are shaved and the bulkier side of the bat on the back causing an imbalance. The bat can lift in such a scenario. So, when you turn and slide, it’s important to have the front side of the bat sliding on the pitch to avoid it getting stuck.

The bat-face down. If you ground the inside edge of the bat facing the side-screen, bat-face down, there is less chance of it getting stuck anywhere on the pitch.

I would sharpen my spikes

For Australian pitches, I would recommend longer full spikes. In fact, I would sharpen the nails quite a bit to make the spikes extra sharp before I went in to bat. If the spikes are slightly blunt, they don’t go into the surface; the sharper ones go in that much easier on harder Australian pitches, and it helps in moving better. On the outfield, during fielding, softer spikes are fine but while batting, wear sprinters’ spikes. Such small adjustments can work in your favour.

There is also the question of where you run. It’s ideal to run on the corner of the drop-in pitch on both sides. If a left-armer is bowling, the non-striker takes the outside line and the striker takes the inside line. Both batters are looking to find the shortest routes to get across and this understanding has to be there before both face the first ball; they should know their designated areas.

Don’t say ‘go’, it sounds as ‘no’

Even the words we use in calling play a role. Don’t say ‘go, go’ as it sounds like ‘no, no!’ It’s best to stick to ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘wait’, and ‘push for two’. If you have punched the ball through the covers and know there are two there, you shout out ‘push for two’ : that means the first run is obvious but we are looking for a possible second from the start. Of course, in packed stadiums, on October 23 for instance, a ‘push for two’ call isn’t going to really work as your partner might not hear all these things! Eye-contact becomes vital, even for the second run. Both can’t be looking at fielders and thinking, ‘chalo hum bhaag jayenge’ as it’s not going to work. I am told that 100,000 people are expected in the stadium on October 23. Calling is not going to cut it; eye-contact will be immensely crucial.

I would cradle the bat

How you hold the bat when you run also matters. I would cradle the bat in my arms, hold it with both hands, that is, and pump my legs and dash across. I found that method to be the best suited to run quicker as the lower body is free (when you are holding the bat with both hands), and you can focus on sprinting. But if you are running with the bat hanging down, it could be an obstruction. Holding the bat in a proper manner helps in the turning and sliding of the bat at the other end, as that’s where you lose time.

Turning quickly is important

Running isn’t about how fast you run; it’s about how quickly you can turn. There are a number of guys who are really good at sprinting, but can’t slow down, turn, and accelerate again. You need to crouch low, slide, turn, in a fluent motion. If we were to run, say 60 metres in a straight line, there are a number of guys who can beat me comfortably, but over 22 yards, they couldn’t beat me as my acceleration was way faster than them and I would decelerate, turn, and accelerate again. Many guys weren’t able to do that. Speed during running between the wickets is an entirely different cup of tea.

Grounding bat is important

Where you ground the bat is also important. A batter has to know with his eyes shut when the crease is approaching and how far it is. In practice, it’s important to know how many strides one takes to cover the distance without looking. There is no use grounding the bat a foot and a half inside the crease, and doing the same at the other end: you lose valuable time in covering the extra distance. You have covered three feet for no reason; and if you are runout by four inches, you will be the biggest fool in the world! You have covered more than 67-68 yards, for three runs say, when you could have been smarter and saved yourself time and distance. Just an inch and a half inside the crease is enough; not more than that.

Adjust to your partner’s speed

People do ask me if I had a favourite batter to run with. It doesn’t work that way in international cricket. It’s about understanding your partners. And the responsibility is on the faster runner to understand and adjust to the partner’s running speed, their strengths and weaker areas. You have to prepare yourself in your mind, as a pair. There is no use setting out for a single before making sure the other person can reach across as there were a number of people who weren’t that fast.

Keep changing strike

In a Test in Cape Town, for almost 56 minutes, Gautam Gambhir and I didn’t rotate strike! I played Dale Steyn and he played Morne Morkel, but even then, I knew, after an over, it was my turn to play six balls. But if you don’t get any balls to play for a couple of overs in T20s, you do start losing your flow. It’s a problem, without a doubt. The momentum can be lost. We see at times when there are openers, we see one person taking more strike initially. You do lose momentum if you aren’t careful.

The danger end depends on which is the shorter distance for the fielder to throw to but it also depends on which way the momentum is taking the fielder. So the danger end need not always be the shorter distance. The other end could be 10 yards further but if the momentum of the fielder is taking him towards that, that end becomes easier for him. So he is always going to make up time. The shorter distance might be slower for him as he has to turn around to throw. As a batter, you have to observe, take in all this data quickly. Now, with the third umpire, every inch, every fraction matters.

In Melbourne, we ran four

I remember a moment in 1999 when I scored a hundred in the Melbourne Test. Those days, the boundaries were all the way to the concrete walls near the stands. I had pulled Shane Warne off the backfoot and on any other ground, I would not have even looked at the ball. It would have been four. Here, we had to run hard and Ricky Ponting had thrown the ball from the boundary when I started the fourth run. After he had thrown the ball! And I still made it comfortably because I knew that it’s impossible to get in a flat throw over that distance.

The surface (fast or slow) matters in deciding runs. Let’s say, you push a ball to mid-off. On some surfaces, you can make it across. Some you cannot where the ball travels quicker.

Need to be aware about wind

Another key factor is to check and be aware of the wind factor in Australia. At times, it can be pretty strong with the cross-breeze. Throwing a flat fast throw becomes that much tougher. You can steal a run on the throw. But you have to be aware of the direction of the wind, else you are in trouble. As a tangent, the wind factor on the vast open grounds in Australia also needs to be kept in mind when going for big hits. Else, you could be caught on the boundary.

I remember moments when batsmen got out, caught going for a big hit, and would say, “arre yaar, lagta toh jaata tha (Had it connected, it would have flown). But nahi lagta, tabhi toh you get out! Lagta hai doesn’t matter. Be smarter. See if you are hitting with the wind or against it. It will come to the nature of the batsmen, of course – some are big hitters, some are busy, rotating-the-strike batsmen – but even if the muscle-hitters can take care of running between the wickets, they can make things easier for themselves. Even in the Powerplay, where the strategy is to encash boundaries, running helps. We are going to play in October, the pitches may be soft

I was watching the Netherlands game on Sunday. The ball gripped and spun. There was lateral movement. When such things happen, you have to still be positive but make sure you are not losing too many wickets; there, running between the wickets comes handy.

Get settled, play big shots – assessing the pitches is going to be very important as you are playing in October. There is a bit of an unknown there. If you assess the conditions properly, you would know what target you can set or how many runs you can give the opposition.

As told to Sriram Veera & Sandeep Dwivedi

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