Bouncer 20190607
Afghanistan's Hashmatullah Shahidi loses his balance after ducking a bouncer during the Cricket World Cup match between Afghanistan and Australia at Bristol County Ground in Bristol, England, Saturday, June 1, 2019. Image Credit: AP

Bouncers have been one of the talking points of this World Cup. I haven’t seen so many short-pitched deliveries in limited overs cricket. Well, there’s a restriction on bouncers (two per over). Bowlers use it sparingly, simply because it’s a double-edged weapon. Bouncers, or bumpers, can either fetch you wickets or sail over the boundary. Since run restriction is the key, bowlers are cautious in employing this weapon.

Not so in Cricket World Cup 2019. The English pitches seem to offer some incentive to the fast bowlers. Especially when the ball is new. The West Indies have made full use of it. They bounced out Pakistan for a paltry score and looked set to hand the Australians a similar treatment. That was until Steve Smith, Alex Carey and Nathan Coulter_Nile rode out the storm.

There’s something barbaric about bouncers. They can terrorise and even maim batsmen. Indian captain Nari Contractor’s career was cut short by a skull injury in 1962. The Phil Hughes tragedy is more recent. The Australian opener’s death led to minor modifications in helmets.

The inherent danger adds to the allure of bouncers. Spectators love them. A barrage of bouncers makes cricket seem like a gladiatorial contest. To me, a batsman pirouetting on his toes and sending a bouncer soaring over fine-leg is one of the spine-tingling sights in cricket. Vivian Richards was a master at it, so was Gordon Greenidge. David Gower hooked more elegantly, and effortlessly.

Indian batsmen generally eschewed the hook. Sunil Gavaskar, G.R. Vishwanath and Rahul Dravid rarely used it avoid the leg trap of a fine-leg and a square-leg. But Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and others of their generation were fearless. So is the current crop. Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli lead a bunch of players who refused to be intimidated by the short-pitched deliveries. This World Cup will be a good test.

The West Indian pacers are relishing the tournament. They seem almost as potent as the fearsome Caribbean quartets of the eighties and nineties. Pakistani batsmen are used to facing genuine pace, yet Andre Russell and Oshane Thomas scythed through their batting. The Australians are adept at handling short-pitched stuff since the pitches Down Under are very lively. Yet, they too were all at sea. Ask Usman Khawaja.

It’s not just the West Indians. England’s Jofra Archer used the bouncer very effectively, briefly putting Hashim Amla out of action. India’sJasprit Bumrah too had the South Africans hopping. Remember the Proteas are no bunnies when facing short deliveries, having learned their trade on bouncy strips.

Fast bowlers are certainly rubbing their hands in glee. This World Cup is turning into an absorbing contest. Let there be more bouncers.