1992 World Cup
The cricketing world’s most vivid memory of pinch-hitting dates back to the 1992 World Cup when the rule of fielding restrictions saw teams promoting their batters who could middle it better.
The most successful of all of them was New Zealand’s Mark Greatbatch who was assigned the specific role of hitting the ball over the fielders as long as the restrictions were on. The left-hander executed it perfectly in that edition.
England sent Ian Botham up the order to do the same as did India with Kapil Dev. Pakistan skipper in that tournament Imran Khan also promoted himself up the order and delivered in the semi-final and final.
In 1987, Australia used Craig McDermott as a pinch-hitter
However, it was not that the 1992 World Cup was the first to show the way. In the 1987 World Cup held in the sub-continent, Australia had used their spearhead Craig McDermott up the order, including in the final against England when he came out at No.4 and scored 14 runs.
But it was more considered an exception which was unglorified for the game which had not gone as run-hungry yet as it was later.
But with the 1992 WC when things became more colourful and thrilling, pinch-hitting became a regular part of the game.
Jayasuriya, Kaluwitharana ripped apart the opponents
The 1996 edition saw Sri Lanka’s explosive openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana – both of whom had batted low in the order early in their careers – tearing the opponents’ bowling apart, especially in the first 15 overs.
The same edition saw Australia sending Shane Warne up the order against New Zealand in the quarter-final game in Chennai.
Gilchrist, Gibbs & Afridi added more value
In the later years, Adam Gilchrist, Herschelle Gibbs and Shahid Afridi also added more relevance to the role of a pinch-hitter in those pre-T20 times.
It was a gamble at the end of the day but most teams harboured the hope that it would click and lengthen their batting order with the more accomplished names chipping in late to make meaty totals.
Tendulkar, Waugh sent in to open
In a way, the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Mark Waugh were also sent to open the innings in the limited overs to make the most of the opportunity but they did the job playing technical cricket and not slogging it, merging the role of pinch hitting with proper batsmanship.
Today, with the advent of T20 cricket where big-hitting is the biggest requirement from the batsmen, the relevance of pinch-hitters has died. Now, everybody in the playing XI has to be a hitter if a team aspires to be a world-beater and that leaves no special place for a pinch-hitter who had often stolen the show in the past, like a film’s action hero.