Saturday, October 1, 2016

Trends and refinements

By V Ramnarayan

From MADRAS MUSINGS (March 1996)                                     

At the start of the Wills World Cup, I had expressed the hope that it might be dominated by bowlers rather more than its predecessors. My hope has not exactly been fulfilled. The bat has so far maintained its sway over the ball and there have been some devastating innings of power and productivity.

The one encouraging aspect of the tournament from a bowling point of view has been the influence the spinners have exerted on the matches. Of the leg spinners, the ever-smiling Paul Strang of Zimbabwe has emerged as an exciting prospect with ability to turn the ball and bowl a very Impressive googly. What is more, Strang has shown a refreshing willingness to toss the ball up, unafraid of being hit for a few, as happened at Kandy when the Sri Lankans went on a rampage. He came back from that mauling well enough to trouble opposing batsmen in the remaining matches.

Leg spin, in fact, has been prominent throughout this tournament India, Pakistan and Australia have used it as their trump card. Anil Kumble has come a close second to Strang at the end of the league stage in the number of wickets taken, while Mushtaq has won at least two matches for Pakistan off the back of his hand. Even after South Africa and the English openers had shattered his bowling analysis, the Pakistani managed to bounce back with match-winning spells.

Kumble has been accurate on the whole except when Mark Taylor and Mark Waugh gave him stick. He has learnt to mix them up a bit, more than he used to in days past, and that has made him a harder nut to crack.

Increasingly, the leggies are coming on fairly early m the innings, sometimes in the first 15 overs. Shane Warne, though not exactly among the wickets, has commanded the greatest respect from every batsman, with his control and variety.

The increased use of spin for strategic advantage has not stopped with leg spin in this World Cup. Venkatapathy Raju has led the left arm spin brigade, in spite of being in and out of the team. He has succeeded in arresting the run rate as well as obtaining breakthroughs almost at will, as he did against the marauding Australians. Both Richard Illingworth and Aamir Sohail have proved economical (till the quarter-finals and both have picked up a few wickets for England and Pakistan respectively. Asif Karim of Kenya returned some splendid figures and generally bowled in a beautiful arc that did him and Kenya proud. Among the off spinners. Aashish Kapoor did not disgrace himself on the solitary occasion he was tried, while Mark Waugh twice provided vital openings to win matches for his side.

With Manoj Prabhakar resorting to off spin. Sachin Tendulkar doing a more than useful job in that style and now Phil Defreitas switching to off breaks in the quarter final against Sri Lanka, there is a sudden explosion in readymade off spinners. The great Jim Laker must indeed be turning in his grave at this slight to his art, but this
is a trend brought on by the flat nature of pitches in the subcontinent and the massacre of the quickies on them. In addition, almost every fast" bowler of any merit has now added to his repertoire an off break as a slower ball.

Of course, another popular ploy in the tournament is now almost standard practice with many teams. Sri Lanka leads the way with two pinch hitters opening the innings. Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana have blazed a trail of attacking batsmanship in this tournament which for sheer audacity and entertainment, value can have few parallels in recent cricket history. Sachin Tendulkar has played so many electrifying innings at the top of the order that a more conventional approach by the Indians has now become virtually unthinkable

The South Africans have been the most flexible in terms of strategy and they have not hesitated to replace their 'agriculturist' opener Palframanan with the more orthodox Andrew Hudson, who too has scored rapidly but in a more refined manner. They have studied their opponents very closely and adapted their game plan to suit each individual opposition team.' Against Pakistan for instance they swept their way systematically to success, but adopted more orthodox tactics in other encounters. They have kept Paul Adams largely a secret, perhaps the best kept one of this contest. By the time you read this, the value or otherwise of this particular tactic will have been there for all to see. If memory serves me right, no bowler of 'chinamen' and left am googlies has figured in a World Cup match before Paul Adams, proof in itself that the mega event has come a long way from its exciting but relatively unsophisticated beginnings in 1975.

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