JOHANNESBURG – Remember when the Cricket World Cup was supposed to be held in dry conditions, on flat pitches and fast bowlers were just going there to make up the numbers?
Those were fun times. South Africa still looked like they had a clue, Australia were building ominously, England looked unbeatable and AB de Villiers was still definitely retired.
Here we are two weeks into the tournament, South Africa have no plan B (or C), Australia’s batting has looked shaky, their bowling too reliant on Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, England have been beaten and AB de Villiers was available (sort of) for World Cup selection.
Oh, and it has rained. Quite a lot. Three games have been washed out – one of those earning South Africa their first point in their fourth match. And the fast bowlers are making hay – in what little sunshine there has been.
Now that’s not to say, this will always be the case.
The World Cup as every forecaster mentioned is a long event. Much is expected of the spinners still, particularly towards the back end of the group stage phase. However with the semi-finals being played on “fresh” pitches – newly prepared ones – perhaps quick bowlers will continue to make an impression even as the tournament heads to its conclusion.
Before yesterday’s match between Pakistan and Australia in Taunton, it was the fast bowlers who were dominating the wicket-taking charts. Of the top 10 leading wicket-takers, six were out-and-out quicks, i.e. – capable of propelling the ball at speeds topping 140km/*. Three others are medium pacers, although in the case of Ben Stokes, he can deliver what cricketers refer to as a “heavy ball.”
The only spinner on the list is India’s Yuzvendra Chahal, who owes four of his six wickets to South Africa’s inability to read him, despite them having faced him in ODIs and T20s a year ago.
In what was a throwback of sorts it was the West Indies in the shape of Sheldon Cottrell and Oshane Thomas who lit up the tournament and reminded everyone that fast bowling was still cool with their bruising dismantling of Pakistan and then Australia’s top order.
Even India, have pitched up in England and Wales with arguably the best fast bowler in the world in the last year in the shape of Jasprit Bumrah. His opening spell at the Rose Bowl, in which he knocked over both Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla was stunning. As was Kagiso Rabada’s opening spell later when South Africa attempted to defend their mediocre total.
Might all this be portent for the sport’s direction in the foreseeable future? Modern one-day cricket – in which people are legitimately talking about teams breaching the 500-run mark – and the T20 format was supposed to make quicks into fodder for powerful wielders of large lumps of willow.
Reverse swing was removed because two balls are used, only one bouncer per over is allowed, boundaries were brought in, bats are bigger and even the bails don’t fall off when the ball hits the stumps. It’s even more of a batsmen’s game now, except, the fast bowlers have fought back.
Long may it continue.