April 18, 2017

Is Chris Lynn killing the good-length ball?

He is able to hit the bowler's stock ball back over his head for six. How will the bowlers respond?
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Chris Lynn: not just a biffer © Cricket Australia/Getty Images

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.

Lynn has found a way to send the back-of-length delivery straight down the ground © Getty Images

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • espn30857310 on April 20, 2017, 18:56 GMT

    Just after I read this story on Chris Lynn and his six-hitting ability I saw an article referencing a pair of recent New York Yankees who hit home runs. Besides measuring distance the ball traveled MLB uses a new state called exit velocity or speed of ball immediately after it is hit with the baseball bat. Monday Matt Holliday hit a ball 459ft/139.9m with an exit velocity of113.9mph/183.3kph. Last night Aaron Judge hit a ball 448ft/136.6m with an exit velocity of 115.5mph/185.9kph. I'm not aware if cricket uses the exit velocity stat yet but it would be interesting if it were used. Sometimes with just the naked eye we may think balls traveled further or were thrown or hit faster than is factual. Having the ability to measure these things is a great tool.

  • cricfan28857638 on April 20, 2017, 12:53 GMT

    Abdul Razack of Pakistan was very fluent with cross bat shots and a clean striker. If T20 had evolved during his days he would have been a potent force.

  • Anurag on April 20, 2017, 9:38 GMT

    There is actually one other batsman, curiously also currently at KKR, who I remember used to play a very baseball-style crossbatted shot to length or back of a length balls from fast bowlers - Robin Uthappa. I remember when he first arrived on the scene, a signature shot of his was to jump down the track and smash length balls over the bowler's head with a horizontal bat, very similar to what Chris Lynn is doing. Haven't seen him play the shot very often nowadays, though.

  • RedDirt on April 20, 2017, 7:00 GMT

    BEHIND_THE_BOWLERS_ARM I agree. The only team I have ever supported is Australia because it has Australians in it.

  • Jose...P on April 20, 2017, 6:16 GMT

    Why this new trend of increasing injuries?

    .

    Let me preface: I have NO DEFINITIVE answer. Only some hunches.

    .

    1. Too many games?

    2. All the newer & tougher moves with bat, ball AND more so in fielding?

    3. Increased travel?

    4. Change in lifestyles?

    5. Dietary changes from place to place?

    6. Mostly away from family support?

    7. Tension from ever increasing stakes?

    .

    Just to add to the list, here is one from a member of my family, who is a regular 'gymmer' & a member of his employer's cricket team.

    He says:

    The body parts which get exercised in the normal gym routines of all kinds, even with focus on specific parts, don't necessarily cover ALL the body parts which come into play in the cricket field. He adds, when he was playing all the time, with hardly any gym, he was far fitter than now, with the regular gym, after every day's office work.

    If it has any truth, perhaps it explains why better fitness in the days with no professional gym for the old world cricketers.

  • SamRoy on April 20, 2017, 4:55 GMT

    @Drinks.Break "so a pull shot is slogging then? Because that's 'swiping across the line'." Read my first comment. "When you hit a just back of good length ball on top of off-stump through deep mid-wicket to long on arc then you are slogging a cricket ball." -- Such a ball is too full to be pulled. Basics, man. Cricketing basics.

  • cricfan4145307922 on April 20, 2017, 2:57 GMT

    he is just another mediocre t20 player

  • mk49_van on April 20, 2017, 2:32 GMT

    A one season phenomena. He will be gone by the time 2018 arrives.

  • yorkshire-86 on April 19, 2017, 22:29 GMT

    Congratulations, an international player has finally figured out how to play a shot champion village batsmen up and down Yorkshire have been playing for decades! Try watching Dan Doughty for Kildale back in the 1990's hit anything on the wickets dead straight over the fence for six, even balls bouncing up to his chin off a length! (which they often do on some village pitches)

  • izzidole on April 19, 2017, 22:28 GMT

    @Dunger.Bob & Reddirt: No doubt it's been the most frustrating period in the history of Australian cricket to see so many promising young cricketers make their appearance in international cricket only to be laid down by injury for the rest of their career. Cricket can be such a cruel sport these days and there seems no end to this trend in Australian cricket which raised it's ugly head about 7 years ago and seems to continue unabated. It seems even batsmen are now afflicted of this plague in Aussie cricket and Chris Lynn is the latest victim.

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