The dare is irresistible to young boys.
“I bet you wouldn’t dare go out there and reverse sweep that opening bowler.”
“Watch this then!”
That was the kind of chat you might have overheard listening to a bunch of eleven year old cricketers, five years ago.
Now they’re sixteen and it’s the Dilshan that’s the subject of their dares.
Twenty or so years ago cricketers rediscovered that scoring runs could be a three dimensional activity. In the days of risk-averse batting one might see the odd lofted straight drive, though cricketers have been sacked from Test sides for playing that shot before lunch on the first day of a Test.
The hook was always an explosive shot with the ball soaring skyward, but even then you could hear the coach’s admonishment, “Roll those wrists, TM.”
Roy Marshall famously played the sliced cut that slewed the ball over Third Man’s head for six, but no-one thought of copying that ‘impossible’ shot.
Perhaps it was Barry Richards, copping with the demands of the Gillette and Benson and Hedges formats, who in recent times rediscovered the art of lofting drives over extra cover and clipping leg side shots deliberately up and over the inner ring of fielders.
Field placing tactics evolved with in and out fields, but these could not put the gene entirely back in the bottle. Shot selection and captaincy had now to consider the third and liberating dimension.
Batsmen responded to carefully placed in and out leg side fields by developing reverse shots if the on side was packed with extra fielders.
By the time the preternaturally attacking and wonderfully inventive Sri Lankan, Tillakaratne Dilshan , arrived on the scene there was only one segment of the field left to exploit: the area behind and over the head of the wicket keeper.
Third Man does not hesitate to repeat and underscore this; yes, the area behind and over the head of the wicket keeper.
Perhaps in the nets one day, bored but feeling ‘right’, Dilshan assumed the position of head butting the half-volley and at the last nano-second produced the bat and, without a further view of the ball, timed a flick over the wicket keepers left shoulder.
“Bet you wouldn’t do that in a match.”
“Watch me, then!”
Yes, Third Man, but what’s this got to do with Sir Donald Bradman?
In Doug Insole’s Cricket From the Middle, the Essex and England allrounder recalls playing in a match at Lords against Middlesex. Compton had yet to reach three figures and was batting freely but seriously when play stopped for tea.
During that interval the mischievous and impish Middlesex captain, R.W.V. Robins, ‘innocently’ enquired of Compton why he never played the straight drive, as this shot was the usually considered the mark of a decent batsman.
Cultural linguists will recognize this as a typically upper middle class mid-twentieth century way of issuing a dare.
Walking out after tea, the Essex players heard Compton tell the bowler, Ray Smith, that his third ball would go back over his head.
The third ball was duly hit for ‘as straight a six as it is possible to see’ reports Insole.
Yes, yes, Third Man, but what had this to do with the ‘Don’ who everyone knows during his entire career played every shot along the ground?
Insole goes on to recall Bradman telling him that once in the course of a big innings in a state match in Australia he had suddenly felt the urge to experiment and he had ‘determined to hit the next ball to fine-leg for four’.
Bradman had told the wicket keeper to stand back, or he would get the ball in his face, and had hit the next delivery, a half volley outside the off stump, over his left shoulder to the boundary.
Voila, The Dilshan … or should we say The Bradman, played fifty years ago. Of course, for added spice, Bradman the master cricketer had dared himself – the real challenge in life.