Updated: March 18, 2015 8:17:04 am
There was a feeling before the World Cup that we were giving ourselves forty two games to tell us what we already knew. It might seem a dismissive statement but it wasn’t an unfair one because the divide in terms of the quality of cricket played between the major teams and the others is too vast. And yet, sport surprises. Of the four major forces of our time only sport and technology retain the power to surprise and to progress. Religion and politics, and sometimes the two are the same, can be predictable and regressive. (Full Coverage| Points table| Fixtures)
Bangladesh might contest the statement that their qualification was a surprise, and they must, but wonderfully as they have played, it is England’s exit that made for greater news. England showed that you can have history, an established feeder system, all the facilities in the world but if you fail to spot a trend, and forget to pack passion, no one can save you. Good management is the ability to spot a trend before anyone else can. The T20-isation (it might be a ghastly word but it says it all!) of 50 overs cricket was not even a trend, it was a movement, but they managed to miss it.
If Bangladesh did qualify, it was because they shed their obsession with slow, uni-dimensional bowling and went with pace. From that point of view they were refreshingly modern and as someone who has watched so much of Bangladesh cricket, I didn’t think I would say that. And I didn’t think too many people would have expected each of the four Asian teams that qualified to do so with pace being at the forefront.
Pakistan and pace bowling go together. In spite of being defined by who wasn’t in the team rather than by who was, the fast bowlers were excellent. It has to be among the great nurseries of world cricket and something that is crying out for a great documentary. But India with Yadav, Shami and Mohit Sharma and Bangladesh with Rubel and Taskin got the cutting edge that they rarely had in the past. And Sri Lanka always have Malinga to go back to. Yes, the Asian embrace of pace was one of the highlights of the World Cup.
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The associates have a lot of votes being cast in their favour and honestly, you need to look at a trend rather than the absolute results. Afghanistan and Ireland showed that they will belong though Scotland and UAE highlighted the gulf that exists. Twelve might well be the way to go at the next World Cup, especially since there isn’t a thirteenth or fourteenth that is demanding attention the way Ireland and Afghanistan did.
Again, fast bowling was the story. Afghanistan’s batting is plucky and their fielding is still medieval, but the bowlers made them competitive. Hamid Hassan was the best bowler outside the top nine countries and the two Zadrans, Shapoor and Dawlat, were very good. They kept their side afloat. And if Ireland had even one bowler remotely fast, they might still have been in the tournament. In contrast to Afghanistan, they batted and fielded really well and being the forward looking set up they are, I would be surprised if the search for pace hasn’t begun.
We can also confirm that given the legislation in favour of batsmen, medium pace bowling, unless accompanied by very skilful swing or change of pace, is doomed. At 130 kmph, you are a batsman’s delight. Indeed, even 140 doesn’t seem to create the same apprehension if it is bowled in straight lines. The idea of going in with two new balls to help bowlers has boomeranged. Swing dies early with the white ball, there is very little reverse swing and the hard ball is travelling huge distances off the bat.
Consequently, cricket has become a power hitting sport and nothing in the last 10-15 overs seems to surprise us anymore. 111 were made in 6 overs, 210 in 17 and 100 from the last 10 slips off our tongue like 50kmph on the highway once did! Yes, it is the bats but it is also an opening of the mind to what is possible. Risk is often a boundary we set ourselves, something which prevents us from seeing the world beyond. Maybe the implements are helping but this is a recalibration of risk.
It helps if you have wickets in hand. Losing one at the end isn’t fraught with the same danger when you have five left with eight overs to play. But if you only have three in hand, it is all very different! And so, delightfully, the antidote to end overs power hitting is taking early wickets and so the wicket-taker is becoming more important again. You need to be a special bowler, not a dibbly-dobbly and that is not bad for our game. Stacking things against the bowler might just take us back to quality!
The numbers suggest it has been a batsman’s World Cup. I am looking for some stats that recalibrate acceptability because my instinct also tells me it has been a fast bowler’s World Cup.
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