Is Chris Lynn killing the good-length ball?
There is beauty in brutality, ask any fan of the sweet science. Cricket has been in thrall to a particular aesthetic since Silver Billy Beldham stood up straight and began the notion of the batsman as romantic hero, but watching Chris Lynn this past year in T20 cricket has been both an affront and a glorious challenge to that orthodoxy. Brutality is his trademark in that form, and it is a targeted kind. Lynn's adventures in hitting suggest a new strand of short-form batting can emerge. Like Chris Gayle, Lynn is producing something different; unlike Gayle, Lynn is no man-mountain. We should take notice of what it is.
First the figures, because they are frightening enough. In the 2016-17 Big Bash, he scored 309 runs at 154.50 and a strike rate of 177.50. In his last seven innings he has made 434 runs at 144.60 and a strike rate of 181.59. Against a career average and strike rate of 37 and 146.51, it's what you call an escalation.
Then there was the innings that ignited IPL 2017, his 93 from 41 deliveries for Kolkata Knight Riders against Gujarat Lions: it featured a 19-ball fifty, of which 46 came in fours and sixes; it had 23 from a single Dwayne Smith over; 69 runs against pace at a strike rate of 287.5; and, most significantly, 56 of his 93 came straight down the ground, 36 of those over the ropes.
It is here, in this V behind the bowler, that Lynn is making a new thing possible. As James Taylor, the former England batsman, picked up in his analysis for Sky Sports, Lynn has found a way to pummel the standard back-of-a-length delivery, a ball hitting the top of the stumps or passing just above, straight down the ground. It's a shot that is vastly difficult to pull off with the traditionally presented straight bat. Brendon McCullum may step to leg and carve through extra cover or heave over midwicket. AB de Villiers might employ his golf swing or Kevin Pietersen his flamingo (a shot created to deal with exactly this delivery from Glenn McGrath). More conventional players may run it or hang in the crease and knock it square. No one hits it back as often and as hard as Lynn.
It gives him several advantages. The straight boundary is usually shorter. In the early overs mid-off and mid-on are generally up. It denies the bowler an almost imperative stock ball. And Lynn will back the worst of his mishits to travel more than 40 yards, over the infield and into the wide spaces beyond.
The trajectory of the average Lynn missile is low, or at least lower. Often it skims heads and trims the boundary boards. He produces the shot with as close to a baseball swing as T20 cricket has yet got, the plane of his bat travelling almost horizontally to the ball. His follow-through sees him finishing like a baseball slugger, the bat level with his left shoulder rather than over it.
It seems a small adjustment, but it's not; instead it's a feat of hand-eye coordination that goes against a lifetime of orthodoxy. And Lynn can be orthodox - he had a Shield hundred in the book at 19. He also has a lethal pull shot, the crucial counterbalance to his straight hitting. At times he offers bowlers nowhere to go.
"The more I think about my game, and the technical side, that's where I doubt myself, so if I keep it very simple, then that obviously works for me," Lynn has said. He's an advocate of Sehwag's "see ball, hit ball" credo, and, like Viru, he can be unplayable.
What will T20 cricket be like in ten years' time? Or in 20? Chris Lynn offers part of an answer. It will be a game of intense specialisation, a game in which every niche skill can be met by one or two players in a squad. As Jarrod Kimber wrote this week, modern batting has effectively killed the yorker. Lynn may have suggested the way of killing a good length.
It is up to bowling to respond, to find new and unorthodox ways of its own. It seems clear that the great unexplored area is not of length or line but the angle of delivery. Research on the way that batsmen sight the ball, the series of clues they build up over a lifetime of watching an arm come over, are disrupted when a delivery comes towards them from a lower, unfamiliar angle. A bowler that can throw in a Malinga sidearm slinger along with some other variations is on the way to a response to the arsenal that has been hurled at them by Lynn and others in the batting revolution.
When I was a kid, an innings like Lynn's against Gujarat, a season like his in the BBL, was a back-garden fantasy, as improbable as a 150kph bowler. Now it's the new reality. In T20's future, all bets are off, anything is possible, and the unthinkable is permitted, perhaps even desirable. Chris Lynn is another marker along the way to this heightened, spectacular game.
Jon Hotten blogs at The Old Batsman. @theoldbatsman