Early summer conditions in England are supposed to favour swing and seam and make attacking strokeplay a risky proposition. But the warm-up games for the Champions Trophy and the ODI series between England and New Zealand have followed a very different script.
At Cardiff,Australia raced to a target of 257 with 11.1 overs to spare,with Shane Watson smashing the West Indies bowlers for a 98-ball 135. At Edgbaston,Sri Lanka made 333 and India chased it down easily,with Virat Kohli and Dinesh Karthik scoring brisk hundreds. At the Rose Bowl,Martin Guptill’s unbeaten 189 powered New Zealand to a massive 359 against a dazed England attack.
While it’s difficult to pinpoint one primary cause for this spurt of high scores,the new ODI rules new balls from both ends; a maximum of four fielders outside the circle might have something to do with it. Spinners,for one,have become easy targets with one less fielder on the boundary forcing them to adopt a defensive approach. Perhaps with this in mind,Australia didn’t field a single spinner in their first warm-up game.
Among the spinners who featured in these matches,Graeme Swann went for 61 in ten overs against New Zealand,while Rangana Herath gave away 44 in seven against India. Both are considered among the best spinners in the world. Amit Mishra and Sachitra Senanayake,likewise,conceded more than a run a ball. Ravichandran Ashwin,Ravindra Jadeja and Sunil Narine,who finished with economy rates below six an over,didn’t take a wicket between them in 25 overs.
The pacers,somewhat counter-intuitively,were even more expensive. With conditions not assisting them in any way,the new balls proved more of a hindrance than an asset. The balls stayed hard,and continued to come on to the bat and feed the expanded repertoire of the modern batsmen on show,all boasting a range of scoops,uppercuts and lofted drives. All the factors that made the old white ball so hard to hit in ODIs of the not-too-distant past the softening (which was such an asset to anyone with a good slower ball),the potential for reverse swing were absent.
The Champions Trophy could well follow a similar pattern,and big scores could be the order of the day. The bowling attack that adapts best to the changed circumstances of ODI cricket could well prove the difference between a set of otherwise evenly matched sides.
(Siddhartha is a senior correspondent based in New Delhi)