What led to the demise of the pinch-hitter?

There is more to the talk of One-Day Internationals (ODIs) ‘dying’ than just the advent of T20 cricket. Yes, 400 plus totals have become ‘chaseable’, bigger bats and smaller boundaries have turned bowlers into mere bowling machines. But have lack of innovations also led to ODIs become more boring?

Saying ‘lack of innovation’ in modern-day cricket can sound stupid. Because bowlers are bowling shorter spells, spinners are taking the new ball, fielders have to be placed at awkward angles, given the range of shots batsmen are executing these days. Yet, despite that, the death of pinch-hitters has made the game more predictable. Especially for the bowling captain, who has a plan in place with the fall of each wicket.

What the death of pinch-hitters has resulted in is a different thing altogether which we shall get to later, but we first need to assess what caused its demise.

It could be because of thicker bats and smaller boundaries which allows almost every batsman the ease of clearing the ropes. It has come a long way since the 1990s when only few players had it in them to hit sixes at will.

It could also be because of the fact that every batsman today has been assigned a certain role. Most top teams today have specialised roles for their batsmen —players who like to play in the Powerplay overs, batsmen who thrive in working the ball around and run quickly between the wickets during the middle overs and batsmen who are in the side purely as specialised ‘finishers’. Such a combination doesn’t allow much scope for captains to experiment. It would require them to let their own planning go haywire to spoil the plans of the opposition.

The third reason why pinch-hitters aren’t preferred by teams could be because bowlers, in order to adapt to more harsh circumstances, have evolved and become smarter. They have added more variations to their bowling to outdo batsmen. A pinch-hitter is unlikely to read and deal with these variations as well as frontline batsmen.

It could be any of these reasons or all of them together. But, captains have become less experimental with their plans and instead grown more confident in posting and chasing down big totals. There are enough justifiable reasons to argue against the need of pinch hitter in modern-day cricket, but were they ever needed in the past. Or was it a manifestation of courageous and innovative captains?

Martin Crowe’s plans with Mark Greatbatch and Arjuna Ranatunga’s with Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana were adventurous too, but they worked and made cricket more exciting. At the time of making the bold move, pinch-hitters weren’t exactly needed. Cricket could have gone on normally. Javagal Srinath for India and Abdul Razzaq for Pakistan weren’t as successful. Whatever their success rate was, pinch-hitters made for good entertainment and shuffled a bit of plans.

With the silent death of pinch-hitters, unpredictability in the game has taken a hit too. With so many personified deaths around, why not resume the talk of death of ODI cricket from here on?


(Aayush Puthran is currently a reporter with India.com. He has previously worked as a cricket journalist with CricketCountry and as an Associate Producer with Sony Six. Mercurially jovial, pseudo pompous, perpetually curious and occasionally confused, he is always up for a light-hearted chat over a few cups of filter kaapi!)


More from this writer:

Anant Gaundalkar: My first cricket teacher

England vs New Zealand at Lord’s: A great advertisement for Test cricket

MS Dhoni and CSK enjoy cult status in a region close to China