World Cup promises new tricks and treats

A woman passes by a sign for the Cricket World Cup in Dhaka.

New Delhi, February 17, 2011

By Manoj Vatsyayana

Whether planning to open the bowling with a spinner or capitalising on the powerplays, World Cup captains have to make sure they don’t leave their thinking caps in the dressing-room.

Creativity has paid rich dividends ever since New Zealand skipper Martin Crowe bucked the trend in the 1992 World Cup at home by tossing the ball to off-spinner Dipak Patel after the opening over.

Crowe did not have to regret his decision as Patel conceded just 36 off 10 overs in his team’s win over Australia in Auckland.

The spinner continued to deliver whenever he shared the new ball till his side ran into Pakistan in the semi-final, losing by four wickets.

The 1992 tournament saw for the first time not only coloured clothing, white balls, black sightscreens and day-night matches, but also pinch-hitters in a bid to exploit fielding restrictions in the first 15 overs.

New Zealand used Mark Greatbatch while eventual runners-up England promoted all-rounder Ian Botham as openers to do the pinch-hitting, but many teams still preferred specialists at the top.

Sri Lanka, with Arjuna Ranatunga as captain and Dav Whatmore as coach, went one step ahead in the 1996 World Cup when they turned pinch-hitters into a potent weapon on flat sub-continental tracks.

Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana, both middle-order batsmen early in their international careers, were sent in as openers and stunned the opposition with their over-the-top hitting in the opening 15 overs.

“The crucial element that we added was the fact that it was now attack from both sides,” Jayasuriya recently wrote in a newspaper column.

“In 1996, Kaluwitharana and I were both licensed to play without worrying about getting out and that was the strategy that has come to become part and parcel of one-day cricket and possibly was the germ for Twenty20 as well.”

Ranatunga kept backing the pair despite a couple of failures as he had tremendous depth in batting, with Aravinda de Silva, Asanka Gurusinha, Hashan Tillakaratne and Roshan Mahanama in the middle besides the captain himself.

Jayasuriya, named player of the 1996 tournament, redefined batting in early overs and underlined the significance of an aggressive batsman at the top of the order.

The coming years saw hard-hitting batsmen at the top, with India’s Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, Australians Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, and West Indies’ Chris Gayle providing brisk starts.

The days of pure wicket-keepers were also over, with Gilchrist, Sri Lankan Kumar Sangakkara, India’s Mahendra Singh Dhoni, New Zealander Brendon McCullum and South African Mark Boucher giving their teams more batting options.

Powerplays, introduced in the 2007 edition, are also fielding restrictions but extended to 20 overs, starting with opening 10 overs and followed by two blocks of five overs each to be decided by the fielding and batting captains.

But the captains have not always succeeded in capitalising on powerplays as sometimes wickets fall at crucial stages in an attempt to make the most of fielding restrictions with big-hitting.

“Powerplay is a call which you have to take depending on the situation,” India’s one-day specialist Yuvraj Singh said.

“It can work to your advantage at times and create a disadvantage in other situations. It’s going to be crucial at what time you take the powerplay.”

Bowlers have also brought in more variations, with Australia’s Steve Waugh using the slower ball to good effect in the 1987 edition in the sub-continent.

Yorkers and slower balls have now become useful weapons, especially in ‘death’ overs.

“Now, more than ever before, the fast bowler has to blend intelligence with pace and aggression,” Pakistan fast bowling great Wasim Akram wrote recently.

“Variety is the name of the game and at the same time one must guard against over-experimenting