The formative days of a county season in April and early May are no time to be a batsman. For a brief handful of weeks the usual imbalance between bat and ball tilts a little back in favour of the latter. Techniques and patience are both tested to extreme as the temperate elements, chilly conditions and seaming pitches all aid the bowlers enjoy an early season bounty. Eye-brow raising double figure team totals are almost frequent as achieving a century morphs into a combined team effort rather than the preserve of the individual.
For the lay spectator one aspect of the early season can prove particularly enjoyable though. The proliferation of cheap wickets dictates that one mode of dismissal occurs with greater frequency. Interwoven amongst the usual reports and missives that dominate the digital media are pictures and short video clips featuring individual stumps cart-wheeling back toward the wicket-keeper and slips. Batsmen losing one or more of their stumps is a common sight around the county circuit during the pre-summer days of the season. The term ‘castled’ is uttered frequently and with carefree abandon.
In some respects bowled as a mode of dismissal is one aspect of T20 cricket that trumps its four or five day equivalents. From a seat in a far off stand the sight of the bails and stumps flying through the air can prove an intoxicating experience. The cavalier nature of T20 has led to this mode of dismissal becoming ever more regular. In contrast, witnessing a batsman losing his off stump in first class or test cricket has become a largely rare occurrence, early season bounty aside. Said batsman feathering the ball through to the wicket-keeper may prove just as satisfactory for the bowler but for the viewing spectator it is surely not even close to watching the bails jump toward the sky and one of the stumps finishing at a forty-five degree angle or tumbling dramatically away from the crease.
Spectating at cricket, akin to any other sport, is an aesthetic experience, one best enjoyed with the eyes. Hitting the stumps is surely the bowler’s equivalent of a batsman smoting a six over long-off but arguably the worst mode of dismissal for a batsman. For the latter it is a very visible display of their failure to protect the one part of the playing surface that they have been entrusted with. The incidence is almost medieval; castles and Englishmen and all that. The mode of dismissal is colloquially known as being castled after all. Falling to a catch in the slips or a close leg-before wicket decision surely doesn’t quite resonate in the same manner.
In contrast, the batting equivalent must surely be striking a six back over a bowler’s head. Scoring a six is very much a three hundred and sixty degree affair in the modern game and they all look the same in the scorebook but a top-edge over the slips or a lofted pull shot surely don’t possess the same resonance or impact as depositing a delivery back over from whence it came. Psychology and sport go hand in glove and, just as surely as losing one’s middle stump is probably the most debilitating dismissal for a batsman, so watching the ball soar over one’s head toward the long-off or long-on boundary must impact the most on a bowler. The shot is almost as if a batsman is summarily dismissing the delivery with insouciance and disdain and the bowler’s efforts with contempt and cussedness.
In truth though, do such nuances make a difference to the overall cricketing scheme of things? The answer is a matter for conjecture and opinion but, from a spectating point of view, both occurrences are surely the most spectacular to watch. Much of the summer will provide opportunities aplenty for sixes; in contrast, the early section of the season is very much the time for timbers to go a-flying.