5 of the most innovative tactics that were employed as a stopgap solution
#3 Sunil Gavaskar batting left handed against a left arm spinner
With many batsmen adding reverse swats and switch hits, I always thought a batsman could bat with his ‘other’ hand to nullify the threat of a bowler taking the ball away from him. A batsman to counter leg break could bat left handed and a left hand batsman could bat right handed against an off break bowler.
But the modern game of cricket is more about damage control than winning matches. Hence, taking risks has become the last thing in most batsmen’s mind. However, there was a batsman who employed this nifty method to counter left arm orthodox spin in a first class match in the 80s. It was Sunil Gavaskar of all batsmen.
In the semi-final of the 1981/82 Ranji Trophy played between Bombay and Karnataka, Bombay were all out for 271 batting first after winning the toss. Raghuram Bhat, a left arm spinner picked up 8 for 123 runs. Karnataka in response amassed 470.
Batting on the fourth day on a deteriorating surface, Bombay found themselves six down for 160 runs. Sunil Gavaskar bizarrely walked out to bat at number eight. Not only did he bat at number eight but he also batted left handed to counter the belligerent left armer Raghuram Bhat.
“The ball was turning square and Raghuram Bhat was pretty much unplayable on that surface. Since he was a left-hand orthodox spinner getting the ball to turn and bounce sharply away from the right-handers, I thought that the way to counter that was by playing left handed where the ball would turn and bounce but hit the body harmlessly (without the risk of getting out leg before wicket)”, Gavaskar told later in an interview.
But the significant feature of his innings was that he kept switching from right hand to left hand to make the ball come into him rather than go away. He batted left handed against Bhat and batted right handed against the off spinner Vijaykrishna. As he planned, he successfully tackled the pernicious spinners on that spiteful wicket and ended up scoring 18 not out, battling for more than 60 minutes ensuring that the match ended in a draw.
“I could understand the adverse reactions,” Gavaskar says. “It was felt that it was done in pique, but it was nothing like that at all. I felt I had zero chance against Raghu batting right handed, and since the match was already decided in Karnataka’s favour, I tried the tactic. If the match was in the balance, I certainly would not have batted left handed. Also, please remember I batted left handed only against Raghuram Bhat. When a right hand spinner (B Vijayakrishna) came along, I switched to batting right handed again”, the Indian legend told in the same interview.
Many batsmen have been known for their ambidextry but to go out and employ that trait in a professional game as means of defying the spinning ball, it takes a lot of mental strength and psychological virility. Gavaskar was no doubt was the toughest batsman of his time.