The dreaded ramp: Has the innovative scoop always backfired?

Mike Gatting, Misbah-ul-Haq and Harmanpreet Kaur - each has had a fair share of misfortune with the ramp shot at the grandest stage. But does the idea itself lack merit?
 
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“I mistimed the shot on which I had the most confidence."

“What about that? We live in a modern age  - a modern age of invention and brilliance - and at times, disbelief!”

The “disbelief” could be sensed in the voice and expression when Mark Nicholas exclaimed it on air. That was when AB de Villiers just walked across and scooped (or swept or ramped) a pacy Andre Russell low full-toss for a six over fine-leg during his sensational blitz in a Pool B 2015 World Cup game at the SCG.

That de Villiers had his right leg planted not more than two inches inside the wide tramline while executing the stroke had, in reality, nothing novel about it, for how frequently he made the entire act look simple before and thereafter.

Nicholas, a fine professional cricketer from late Seventies to mid Nineties - an accomplished Hampshire captain - and a revered commentator thereafter, would have seen numerous of those with varied effects and results during his playing days as well as broadcasting career. 

One that he, like most England cricket supporters, would not exactly love to remember was played during the 1987 World Cup final at the Eden Gardens. As the tale goes, the Calcutta crowd, supporting Australia with the recency effect of the home side’s semi-final defeat to England, had gone quiet as Mike Gatting went fluently against Tim May and the rest in pursuit of 254.

With May’s off-breaks disappearing, Allan Border, a revolutionary Australia captain, took it upon himself to turn it the other way, in every sense. A confident Gatting shaped up for a reverse paddle off Border’s first ball, which was heading well outside his leg-stump.

Decades later, a jovial Border remembers every moment thereafter vividly: “Catches the top-edge, hits him on his shoulder and goes straight up in the air (and caught by Greg Dyer). Bloody beauty, one for none!”

England would eventually fall just seven short.


Another final defeat five years later followed - against Pakistan at the MCG - and England would have to wait till July 14, 2019 to get their hands on the World Cup. While Lord’s produced some extraordinary moments on that gripping day, with Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer, Jimmy Neesham and Trent Boult playing the lead protagonists, a key play less remembered, was produced by Buttler well before the decisive end.

The ICC digital team, though, ensures that the moment finds its space in this gripping closing montage for the tournament. At the exact three-minute mark, in a bit lasting no more than two seconds, the ball can be seen thudding onto the Buttler’s blade’s middle, with sweat dripping from his helmet at the exact point.

With 76 needed off 61, the right-hander just walked across to a full ball from Matt Henry, and ramped it to the fine-leg boundary. The stroke was played against a man who had removed Jason Roy early in England’s chase of 242, after having rattled the Indian top-order in Manchester three days earlier. What made Buttler’s idea jaw-dropping was that the fine-leg was in position at the boundary (fairly square). And how crucial was the flawless execution! Another of numerous ‘what-if’ moments for New Zealand.

Buttler would be the final player to lay his hands on the ball to cap off one of game’s most eventful results, completing England’s maiden World Cup final win after three failed attempts previously. That thrilling finish would not have been possible if not for the happenings on each of over 600 balls delivered on the day. The Buttler scoop deserves its place in the top-tier.

Full circle for the stroke completed? Not quite, and will never be!

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The ramp has had its own variations over the years - played conventional or reverse - depending on the batter executing it. If anything, Joe Root has taken it to a whole next level, unleashing the reverse-scooped sixes against quicks Tim Southee, Neil Wagner and Shardul Thakur in Test cricket recently. Not the first time though: Remember him doing that to Chris Morris at the T20 World Cup 2016?

Root is not the only batter to play it that way either. Dan Christian certainly did it earlier, and few others have in fact normalised it thereafter much like the conventional one, perhaps ruling out the risk-factor.

Harmanpreet Kaur, the India Women’s captain was once again at it against Australia, in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022 Gold medal clash played at Edgbaston on Sunday, August 7. The full-blooded sweeps, the charges downtown and the glorious lofts in a resurrecting and potentially game-defining knock were reminiscent of her heroic 171* from five years ago, helping India inch closer to Gold after they had lost their in-form openers by the third over of the 162-run chase.

However, came that dreaded stroke: a paddle off Ashleigh Gardner, the all-rounder who had earlier snatched the opening game of the competition from India’s grasp. The shot was executed to great effect against Tahlia McGrath and the rest earlier in the innings, and is one of Harmanpreet’s go-to ones, anyway. However, this one popped up, deflected off the helmet and lobbed to Alyssa Healy’s right, who had to pull off a relatively better effort than Dyer to give this game a decisive twist.

Australia Women, officially remained invincible! 

The Indian cricket fans though, have a scoop shot memory of their own to revel for years to come. With six needed off four, having blown the previous over long-off, Misbah-ul-Haq aimed for the other sight-screen against Joginder Sharma. Those who watched it on TV would recall that one freak moment during its trajectory, when the camera angle suggested that the ball would sail over fine-leg.

“When I watched it on TV in the highlights, even my heart beat was up and the way everyone was focusing on that ball, I thought this has gone, this will go for a one-bounce four,” MS Dhoni, at the centre of it all during the T20 World Cup 2007 final at the Wanderers, says years later.

However, it went only as far as S Sreesanth, who pouched it safely to send his team and its fans into a frenzy.

"In 2007, I always say that throughout every game, I scored so many fours playing that shot. So, you can say I got overconfident. I mistimed the shot on which I had the most confidence," Misbah said during a conversation with former Pakistan teammates Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Yousuf earlier this year.

In the next T20 World Cup edition, Tilakaratne Dilshan made the stroke his own, prompting it to be labelled as the “Dilscoop” during a Player of the Tournament performance. It however, brought about his downfall in the final at Lord’s, when a teenaged Mohammed Amir set it up to bounce him out for a five-ball duck.

However, Dilshan wasn’t the first player to own the shot with a unique version. It was Zimbabwe’s Douglas Marillier who got it prominence, outsmarting an experienced Glenn McGrath in a thrilling finish in Perth at the start of the century, on one of numerous days he employed it with great efficiency. A year later, in the NatWest 2002 final at Lord’s, Virender Sehwag lapped one to manufacture one of his four boundaries in a Ronnie Irani over in a game-setting opening stand with Sourav Ganguly.

Back to 2009. The Royal Challengers Bangalore were well placed chasing 144 against Deccan Chargers in the IPL final, with the experienced Rahul Dravid and a young Ross Taylor at the crease. Dravid went down on his knees to paddle uncapped medium pacer Harmeet Singh, and missed it altogether to see his leg-stump rattled to a bowler who could buy no more than one scalp in his previous six outings. RCB fell short by six runs, and the wait for an elusive IPL title continues till date.

"In a normal game he would never have tried that shot at that time. There was panic written all over it," Herchelle Gibbs, the only half-centurion of that final, writes on the stroke chosen by the “usually unflappable” Dravid in his autobiography ‘To the Point’.

Kevin Pietersen’s failed execution against Nathan Haurtiz in the 2009 Cardiff Test, too, had called for severe criticism.

When Hasan Ali dropped Matthew Wade in the T20 World Cup 2021 semi-final, Australia still needed 18 off nine. Wade was confident and brave enough in his approach, with two paddles for six sandwiched by a hoick across the line capping off a brilliant turnaround.

Kane Williamson was undone by Chris Woakes' length and lack of pace a day earlier to lob one straight to Buttler. Thankfully, the Blackcaps had Daryl Mitchell and Jimmy Neesham.

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India Women’s Silver finish at CWG 2022 prompted appreciation from various corners, and criticism too - some of it all too harsh - for the agonising nine-run defeat, with Harmanpreet copping it the most for that shot selection. However, it’s worth acknowledging that it was one of the major contributors to the 65 sublime runs after having walked in at 22/2.

The scoop, ramp or the paddle - whatever we name it - adds extra flavour to the batting and the game overall. As with every other shot in the book (which keeps updating), the ramp too, needs timing and placement to fetch the desired result. 

The stroke has arguably backfired more than producing the goods in major games till date, but the thrill and the overall success percentages ensure that it will continue being a much sought after option for batters in future.

It might not be as visually pleasing as a Sachin Tendulkar straight-drive, known to “show’em the bat-maker’s name” (as Nicholas called it back in the day), but serves just fine with the desired result. Tendulkar, one of game’s most complete batters ever, had this one too, in his arsenal.