Graeme Swann of England and Dale Steyn of South Africa have huge responsibilities on their shoulders © Getty Images
Graeme Swann of England and Dale Steyn of South Africa have huge responsibilities on their shoulders © Getty Images

 

By Madan Mohan

 

Against all odds, it appears that this World Cup could revive the role of bowling in ODIs. Who would have thought that, given the fact that the championship is played in the batting paradise of the Indian subcontinent. And yet, teams seem to have realized, or hopefully will, going further in the tournament, that with most of the major teams rich in batting power, it is the good old bowlers who will make the difference.

 

The question now is: Will it be pace or spin?

 

There was a buzz about the role of spin in the World Cup, even in the run-up to the event. It was expected that the subcontinent pitches would offer some assistance to spinners, especially considering we are approaching summer. Also, as we have seen in T20, in their urge to attack, batsmen risk getting beaten in the air or being caught out of the crease and opportunities for stumping will be around the corner. That, at least, is the thinking.

 

It’s early days yet in the tournament, but only one match so far has been significantly influenced by the role of spin – the PakistanSri Lanka encounter. And what the fastish-spin of Shahid Afridi says for the strategy of other teams is debatable. Moreover, the vulnerability of spin in the death overs was exposed in the India-England game.

 

It could be argued, though these are ifs and buts, that a pace bowler may not have been smashed for two sixes in the penultimate over. We may put this down to Piyush Chawla’s inexperience and limited repertoire, but Graeme went for 59 in nine. Not the most flattering figures for a spinner considered by many to be the best spinner currently operating in the game. A spinner cannot bowl toe crushers and bouncers and, to that extent, is disadvantaged both when it comes to limiting the flow of runs and taking wickets.

 

Another notable feature of the game was the pitch didn’t afford much turn in the second half of the game – not alarmingly, anyways. My own view is there was some turn which was not exploited by the spinners, but if that’s the most the current bunch of spinners can get out of such a surface, they are not going to be particularly effective in the tournament. And should dew turn out to be a factor in some venues, they will find the going even tougher. Against this, pitches may dry out and crack towards the business end of the tournament. We may then see a repeat of Australia’s capitulation to India in the warm-up encounter. Maybe, it was just a warm-up game and too much cannot be read into it.

 

Australia has gone in for an all-out pace attack. It doesn’t have much choice in the matter because calling Jason Krezja “The Aggressor” (or, whatever be the moniker) does not wash with the competition! The strategy succeeded overwhelmingly, albeit against hapless New Zealand. Regardless, Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson can all be more than a handful for most batting line-ups on their day. Swing and seam can be negated by conditions, but not pace through the air – something that seems to have worked in the favour of Lasith Mallinga and Kemar Roach. Once again, their flattering figures were earned against hopelessly outmatched opponents and may not indicate much about their success or lack thereof going ahead in the tournament.  But both bowlers are known to be destructive on their day and their success, even if against minnows, has not really come as much of a surprise. It appears as if Pakistan too may rely on Shoaib Akhtar or Umar Gul getting crucial breakthroughs. Which Zaheer Khan did for India in the said India-England match.

 

A pace bowler can both swing the momentum with wickets out of the blue and also afford the captain more control through effective bowling at the death. Should he get it wrong, however, batsmen will take whatever pace they can get from sleepy subcontinent pitches and slaughter him. Ashes 2010-11 hero James Anderson was plundered for 95 in the same match and thus the reason why a pace bowler can be an expensive weapon.

 

So, which of these will win the day for captains in this tournament: the guile of spin, or the power of pace? Or, will the team with a balanced attack find itself best placed to take advantage of the conditions and excel? South Africa has three spin options aside from a certain Dale Steyn. Will the Proteas have the last laugh?

 

(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake)