Three matches are left in the World Cup. Will fast bowlers help Pakistan turn the tables on New Zealand on the spin-friendly Sydney pitch? Can Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson help the Kiwis fight fire with fire on Wednesday? England hope to ride on Wood’s pace against India in Thursday’s semifinals, but the swing of Woakes and Curran is equally destructive. Can Bhuvneshwar, Arshdeep and Mohammed Shami deliver India a spot in the final? Here's a look at how pace shaped this tournament.
How pace burnished the World Cup in Australia
Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
A fast bowler steaming in to send down thunderbolts is one of the adrenaline-charged sights in cricket. A batter swivelling on his backfoot to whack the express deliveries over the fine-leg fence makes for a more exhilarating spectacle. These are regular sights in Australian cricket.
These were on display in the T20 World Cup. The lively pitches made for riveting contests, and the Super 12 was replete with big upsets and close finishes. Unlike the usual T20 games, which are skewed in favour of batters, pace bowlers called the shots in Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. That resulted in several cliffhangers.
Mark Wood consistently clocked over 150kph to lead the England attack. He may not have captured too many wickets, but his fiery pace softened up the batters for the rest of the bowlers to deal vital blows.
South Africa’s Anrich Nortje cranked it over 150kph, and his lightning deliveries fetched wickets after Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi worked the batsmen over. The Proteas’ pace pack was one of the best in the tournament, although they couldn’t carry the team into the last four.
The South African pace is only topped by the fearsome foursome of Pakistan. Skipper Babar Azam opted for a four-man pace battery, a la the West Indians led by Clive Lloyd in the eighties, with Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Wasim, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf, who kept the batters hopping. The Netherlands’ Bas de Leede suffered a bruise below his right eye after a Wasim bouncer crashed onto the helmet grill.
Not all wickets fell to the Pakistan pacers. Leg-spinner Shadab Khan profited from their frightful speed as batters looked to target him. Pakistan must have been relieved to see Afridi regain his rhythm and claim wickets against Bangladesh and South Africa.
The swing factor
The red-hot pace was not the only weapon. The new ball swung around to catch the edges of the bat so much that two slips were a regular sight. It helped teams like India, where Arshdeep Singh and Bhuvneshwar Kumar made early inroads. So did New Zealand’s Tim Southee and England’s Chris Woakes. Even Ireland’s Josh Little, Bangladesh’s Taskin Ahmed and Fazalhaq Farooqi posed plenty of problems.
Seeing the new ball off wasn’t enough because the spinners came on to throttle the batters in the middle overs. The turn was marginal, but they relished the bounce, especially the leggies. Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan is tough to handle on any pitch, but his chances were reduced since two games were washed out. Shadab Khan struck vital blows to revive Pakistan when games were meandering.
Adil Rashid may not have claimed many wickets, but his blend of leg-breaks, googlies and sliders helped crank up the pressure for other England bowlers to reap the rewards. So was the case of New Zealand’s Ish Sodhi and Australia’s Adam Zampa.
India are yet to play their leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, preferring to trust finger spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel. Mitchell Santner’s left-arm spin worked well for the Kiwis, as was the case with South Africa, who opted for Keshav Maharaj.
The Suryakumar Yadav phenomenon
Bowlers will remember this World Cup for a long time. So will some batsmen. India’s Suryakumar Yadav is the name on everyone’s lips after his breathtaking shots lit up the Melbourne Cricket Ground, one of the biggest grounds in the world. Virat Kohli topped the batting charts with some crisp inning, celebrating his return to form at the Asia Cup in the UAE.
The two helped India post good totals, as did KL Rahul, who put behind him three nightmare starts to run into form with a couple of half-centuries. But the patchy form of skipper Rohit Sharma is a worry as India looked for early impetus against England in the semis.
There were two centuries: New Zealand’s Glenn Philips struck the first of the World Cup, and South Africa’s Rilee Rossouw scored the other. Kiwi Devon Conway, Pakistan’s Shan Masood, Ifthikar Ahmed and Shadab Khan helped themselves to half-centuries, while David Miller rescued the South Africans from a few tricky situations. Miller failed against the Netherlands, and the Proteas crashed out.
Captain Jos Buttler is not yet at his best but was good enough to give England good starts along with Alex Hales. Both have been excellent in the powerplay, but the creaky middle-order, where Ben Stokes played one calm knock, must be a concern for Buttler in the game against India.
The loss against Ireland must hurt England; it was a game that showed the flaws in the powerful batting line-up that runs down to No. 10. England could have won the match if it wasn’t for the rain interruption, but the inability to accelerate in the middle overs stood exposed. And they wouldn’t want a repeat.
Middle-order batting was a worry for Pakistan when they came into the tournament. Ironically, it was the middle order that kept them afloat. Shan Masood has anchored well, while Iftikhar Ahmed came good in one game after their trusted opening pair of skipper Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan failed to fire.
The arrival of Mohammad Haris has changed the game for Pakistan. Drafted into the side after Fakhar Zaman’s injury, Haris’s positive approach has lifted the scoring and taken the fight to bowlers. The batting looked so good that Azam’s struggles didn’t matter.
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It wasn’t easy to step up the scoring. The large boundaries kept down the boundaries, resulting in fewer big overs. That didn’t dissuade the batters from hammering sixes. Rossouw struck eight in one game, Philips four: both scored centuries. Several batters perished in attempts to clear the fences. So hard running was a significant factor in scoring.
Who will win the World Cup? Irrespective of the result, this will go down as the World Cup where fast bowlers stamped their authority. They call bouncers chin music. It sure isn’t pleasing. Ask the batters.
Six takeaways from the Super 12
A.K.S. Satish, Sports Editor
Bigger grounds, bouncy wickets
Lively pitches and longer boundaries have made the contests exciting and provided twists to the outcome. They have helped bring the balance between the ball and the bat closer.
The unpredictability of T20 cricket was evident from some stunning results in Round One, where West Indies and Sri Lanka suffered early shocks. Two-time champions West Indies failed to recover. In the Super 12, Zimbabwe, Ireland, and the Netherlands scored upsets over Pakistan, England and South Africa, respectively.
The jinx continues
Defending champions and hosts have never won the T20 World Cup. The jinx continued as Australia failed to make the semifinals after losing out on run rate. Their big loss in the opener left them with a mountain to climb.
Kohli loves Adelaide
Adelaide is Virat Kohli’s happy hunting ground. He has scored several Test centuries there. The star Indian batter loves the bouncy and pacy Australian wickets and has been in pristine form. Little wonder, Kohli has topped the charts for the leading run-getters in this World Cup.
Several cricketers have been ruled out of the tournament even before it started. Prominent among them was Jasprit Bumrah. During the tournament, Sri Lanka lost several fast bowlers, including their pace ace Dushmantha Chameeera. England, Australia, and Pakistan had to call up replacements. Australian skipper Aaron Finch and Tim David missed the last Group 1 match due to injuries.
Proteas’ bad luck
Bad luck seems to follow South Africa at major events. They were robbed of a thrilling win in the 1992 semifinals against England. Rain again thwarted them against Zimbabwe. This year, a shock loss to the Netherlands ensured that the ‘chokers’ tag remained with them.
Looking back: The fall of the cricketing giants
Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
What a World Cup this has been? Full of twists and turns. Upsets and shock exits. This is T20 cricket, where unpredictable results and giant-killing acts are commonplace. Games where sixes come by the dozen and hat-tricks never a rarity.
A World Cup in Australia would be different. We knew it. And that held true. Longer boundaries resulted in fewer sixes and more dismissals. Bowlers loved the bounce and pace of pitches, which made the matches lively. The contests were more even, unlike the usual high-scoring encounters in white-ball cricket.
Unseasonal rains from the La Nina weather phenomenon added more uncertainty to a tournament full of surprises. Rain deprived full points to the heavyweights in the Super 12 and infused spice into the race for the semifinals.
So, here we have the semifinals without Australia and South Africa, two of the pre-tournament favourites. Long before the semifinals, the West Indies had crashed out in Round One with uncharacteristic losses to Scotland and Ireland. But then, the two-time champions have always been an unpredictable side.
What happened to Australia?
Australia’s stumble was perplexing. A ruthlessness so characteristic of the Baggy Greens was sorely missing. Thoroughly outplayed in the Super 12 opener by New Zealand, Aaron Finch’s team was so unconvincing in the rest of the matches that their ouster wasn’t unexpected. It looks as if they never recovered from that body blow. Their batting and bowling were never incisive enough to lift their net run rate.
Former captain Michael Clarke described the Australian performance the best. “We picked an aggressive 11 in this World Cup squad yet played so defensively. Very un-Australian,” he said during the Australian radio show Big Sports Breakfast. Un-Australian, it was. There was no fight in them.
The bigger surprise was South Africa’s elimination. They have choked so often in World Cups that the humiliation at the hands of the Netherlands wasn’t out of character. They choked again, after dominating in the early part of the Super 12, including a hard-fought win over India. The defeat at the hands of Pakistan seemed to have had a demoralising effect on the Proteas. How else do you explain the defeat to the Dutch?
South Africa’s pace attack is one of the best in the tournament, with Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje beating batters with speed and bounce. Kagiso Rabada was not at his best, yet the Proteas had enough firepower. They were let down by batting since only one or two batsmen scored well in each game. Skipper Temba Bavuma had an unforgettable tournament, but South Africa won the games when Quinton de Kock, Rilee Rossouw, Aidan Markram and David Miller scored. They all failed to fire against the Netherlands: a shock defeat that gave Pakistan a lifeline.
Fall of the Asia Cup champions
Sri Lanka’s underwhelming show too was bewildering. True, they are a team in transition. Their rebuilding phase had been marked by bad losses, but they seemed to have turned a corner with the Asia Cup win in the UAE early this year.
Injuries to several fast bowlers, particularly Dushmantha Chameera, have been a factor in the losses on the pace-friendly pitches. Poor batting and fielding too undermined them. Barring Kusal Mendis and Pathum Nissanka, no other batter could find the scoring touch. Charith Asalanka came good in one game, and Bhanuka Rajapaksa struggled throughout: these two were batting bulwarks in the last World Cup.
Spinners Maheesh Theekshana and Wanindu Hasaranga provided proof of their talent fount. Looks like Sri Lanka have a long way to go before they can become world champions again.
Rise of the Netherlands, Ireland and Zimbabwe
Bangladesh didn’t have a good World Cup, yet they came close to a semifinal spot after the Dutch shocked South Africa. But they couldn’t upstage Pakistan due to a below-par performance that was consistent in the tournament. Only against India did Bangladesh look like winning, but a rain stoppage upended their chase. Bangladesh can still take some positives as they continue to rebuild the team.
Among the string of upsets, the rise of minnows has been a feature of the World Cup. The best performers were the Netherlands, which won two of their games at the expense of South Africa and Zimbabwe. Ireland sunk England and Zimbabwe stunned Pakistan in a tournament where every team fancied their chances. No team can be taken lightly, was the refrain of captains.
When the pitch assists bowlers, each team will believe they have a chance. That’s what happened in Australia. The wicket was the leveller.