Thursday, May 29, 2008

How Gilchrist's squash-ball trick has helped Venugopal Rao get going

Adam Gilchrist's brutal century against Sri Lanka in the 2007 World Cup final - an innings that single-handedly won Australia the trophy and restored his image as one of the most destructive opening batsman the world has ever seen - will remain etched in the memory for a long time.

The fact that the innings ran into a brief controversy after the wicket-keeper-batsmen had used a squash ball in his left glove tends to get forgotten. The Sri Lankan team had lodged a complaint, but the International Cricket Council had cleared the batsman.

Now, in his stint with the IPL's Hyderabad team Deccan Chargers, Gilchrist has not only used the little squash ball for his own batting exploits, but has also advised the rest of his team members on the advantages of doing so. When his team mates in Hyderabad had asked him to explain the use of the ball, he said "it provides me with a better grip."

Among those who listened to what Gilchrist had to say, only Venugopal Rao decided to try it out. Whether it's a direct co-relation or not, the right-hander from Andhra Pradesh has managed an impressive 242 runs in nine IPL innings at an overall strike rate of 147.56 and is the team's third-highest scorer after Rohit Sharma and Gilchrist.

Rao's exploits in IPL have taken bowlers by surprise. Not known as a batsman who strikes the ball hard and clean, Rao has hit 14 sixes and 19 boundaries in the tournament so far, taking Hyderabad agonisingly close to victory from hopeless situations in two games.

"I am using the ball in my right glove. It gives me the advantage of a better grip. I took Gilchrist's advice and it's actually working well," Rao told The Indian Express.

Big impact

Rao says he'll continue using the squash ball as long as he's comfortable with it. In the match against Delhi at the Ferozeshah Kotla last week, Rao's 34 off 18 balls contained two sixes and three fours - and one six in particular, off Farveez Maharoof over long-on, was an example of Rao's comfort factor with the squash ball in his glove. The shot was played as late as possible and close to his body and the timing, says Rao, is reflective of the grip he enjoyed.

While none of the other members have made use of the golf ball yet, New Zealand's Scott Styris, who has witnessed the change in Rao's batting, is now trying to experiment with it himself.

Reacting to the Lankan team's complaint after the World Cup final, the ICC has legalised the use of a ball saying "it is not against the laws or the spirit of the game".

"Since there is no restriction in law even on the external form of batting gloves, let alone the interior thereof, no law has been breached," the ICC said.

In fact, the ICC representative had said at the time: "It's been suggested that if shoving a squash ball into your bottom glove makes you bat like Adam Gilchrist, then perhaps the ICC should make it compulsory".

Looking at the way Rao's batting, that day may not be too far away.

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