Spin bowling and the World Twenty 20
Tony Becca FROM THE BOUNDARY
The first renewal of the ICC World Twenty20 got under way two days ago and on Friday's opening day the Netherlands came up with the first upset when they defeated England.
Yesterday the West Indies also surprised Australia, and by the time the champions are decided on June 21 at Lord's, after some daring and exciting stroke play, the expectations are that the ball will land beyond the boundary many, many times.
Who will win the Cup? As far as I am concerned, with only 20 overs maximum batting per team, with my belief that the shorter the game, the closer is the difference between the teams, and although England have already lost a match, it could be any of the big eight - Australia, India, South Africa, Pakistan, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, and England.
The gap between the teams in this competition is so close, almost so non-existent, that even Bangladesh, the Cinderella of Test cricket, the team that has won only one Test match - against Zimbabwe - has a chance, an outside chance, of winning the title.
Lest it be forgotten, in the 2007 World Cup, in the 50-over version of the game, Bangladesh defeated India and South Africa, and in the last ICC World Twenty20, they defeated the West Indies, easily at that, and knocked them out of the contest.
The favourites, however, appear to be defending champions India - the team which held on to beat Pakistan by five runs in a thrilling final.
It could be India from South Africa, with Pakistan, and Sri Lanka in the hunt.
What about the chances of the West Indies?
Well, they are ranked number 11 out of the 12 teams with Bangladesh at number eight, Ireland at number nine, the Netherlands at number 10, Scotland at number 12, and based on that ranking, based on their bowling, based on their erratic fielding, it would be a surprise, a shocker, if they managed to pull it off.
20 overs per team
Once again, however, the contest lasts for a maximum of only for 20 overs per team, and any team with batsmen like Ramnaresh Sarwan and Dwayne Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul - the man who hit Chaminda Vaas for a four and a six off the last two delivers in a 50-over contest to win a match, and Christopher Gayle - the man who smashed 117 off 57 deliveries in a 20-over contest, must be in with a chance.
The urgency in the field, the sight of the fielders diving to stop the ball, flinging themselves in the air to catch the ball, racing away to stop the ball, and then throwing it straight into the wicketkeeper's gloves is one of the attractions of the 20-over versions of the game, and so too is the carefree and exciting batting - the sight of the ball, from the bat of one like Gayle, or one like Brendon McCullum, the New Zealander who once cracked 158 not out off 73 deliveries in a 20-over contest, taking off and landing in the stands, or behind it after sailing over it.
The batsmen, however, had better be careful: this time around it could be the bowlers' turn to take centre stage, and more so the spin bowlers.
Australia parade fast bowlers like Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, and Nathan Bracken; South Africa have in their line-up Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, and Albie Morkel; England boast the likes of James Anderson, Ryan Sidebottom, and Stuart Broad; and India, Pakistan, and the West Indies parade, respectively, Zaheer Khan, Irfan Parthan, Ishant Sharma, and RP Singh, Umar Gul and Iftikhar Anjum, Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor.
The men who could make the difference, however, the men who could silence the bats, not only of batsmen like Gayle and McCullum, but also of others like Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke, Kumar Sangakkara and Sanath Jayasuriya, Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq, are the masters of spin - bowlers like Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis of Sri Lanka, Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha of India, Daniel Vettori and Nathan McCullum of New Zealand, Saed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi, and Shoaib Malik of Pakistan, Johan Botha, Robin Peterson and Roelof van der Merwe of South Africa, and Graeme Swann and Adil Rashid of England.
While the West Indies, even with Sulieman Benn, may be short and may well pay the price of short-sightedness - of their dependency on pace, not so one like Bangladesh who, apart from parading some fine batsmen in Mohammad Ashraful, Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan, and Mushfiqur Rahim, boast a good group of spin bowlers in orthodox left-handers Abdur Razzak and Hasan, and off-spinners Naeem Islam and Mahmudullah.
It will not be surprising to see one or two teams opening the bowling with a spin bowler, it is almost certain that a few teams will introduce spin bowlers early, and it will be interesting, very interesting, to see the quick-scoring batsmen, the big hitters, with no time to get their eyes in, going after slow bowlers who spin the ball, who spin the ball both ways, who disguise the spin of the ball beautifully, who vary the flight of the ball and thus the length of the ball, and who skilfully vary the pace of the ball.
That is why the winners could come from India, South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
With some good batsmen and some good pacers in their line-ups, their spinners make them wonderfully balanced units.