October 3, 2012

Not so bad for the bowlers after all

The World Twenty20 has shown that the shortest format need not be all a batsman's game

The Man-of-the-Match tally may say otherwise but quite remarkably this has been another World Twenty20 dominated by bowlers, and the tournament has been better off for it. Senseless bashing only appeals to fans of the World Wrestling Federation.

There have been no 200-plus scores, and there has been only one individual hundred, but none of the matches featuring the top sides has been without action and drama. From the moment Ajantha Mendis burst one through the bat and pad of Vusi Sibanda - only his third ball of the tournament - bowlers of all kinds have brought varying skills into play. Thanks must also be given to the curators, who either by design or accident have produced three different kinds of pitches.

The quick men have had the ball fizzing through in Hambantota, the spinners have enjoyed the grip, turn and sluggishness of the Premadasa, and Pallekele has had carry and bounce enough to encourage both seamers and spinners. Run-making hasn't been a hazard - in fact both Hambantota and Pallekele have made for fluent stroke-making, but they have also tested batsmen's skills against top bowlers. Colombo has been the toughest for run-making, but 150-run matches are often far more absorbing than outright slugfests.

Shane Watson has been the impact player of the tournament, but while his runs may have been his more spectacular contribution, half of his impact has come with the ball. Sensationally, he is both the leading run scorer and leading wicket-taker in the tournament. In a sense, Watson the bowler has made it easier for Watson the batsman. Both his half-centuries in the Super Eights came in matches in which the Australian bowlers had restricted their opponents to under 150. Even against Pakistan, it wasn't the bowlers who failed them.

The demise of bowlers has been predicted from time to time, especially with the introduction of new formats and regulations designed to facilitate quick scoring, but bowlers, like all species whose existence is threatened, are a canny and hardy lot: the true survivors among their tribe, they have historically met every new challenge by evolving their craft and adding new tools.

Reverse swing was a response to dry, barren pitches in the subcontinent; the doosra came about to counter big bats and hits to cow corner; the slow bouncer was developed to con the batsman who was armoured enough to brazenly take on the short ball.

T20 has brought the full-length ball, bowled kissing the tramline outside off; the yorker from round the wicket; the loopy bouncer; offspinners creating three different angles from round the wicket; and it has produced a completely original bowlers like Sunil Narine and R Ashwin, who have managed to transfer their skills - if not with the same degree of success yet - to the longer forms.

T20 has brought the full-length ball, bowled kissing the tramline outside off; the yorker from round the wicket; the loopy bouncer; offspinners creating three different angles from round the wicket

This has been said before. Unlike the one-day game, where the batsman has the time and space to build a base and can afford to manipulate singles and even play out a quiet over or two, T20 affords no such latitude. Every dot ball brings dread, and three successive ones a sense of doom. Not all batsmen can hit sixes for fun, as Chris Gayle does. Each dot ball preys on their mind, and crafty bowlers know how to exploit it.

Saeed Ajmal, in particular, revels in this knowledge, and batsmen who can't pick his variations become his puppets. He bowls quicker in T20 but never at the cost of subtlety. From round the wicket, he can drift it away with the arm, bring it back in with spin, and turn it the other way. Ashwin and Narine are wonderful to watch too, and along with Mendis, who pioneered the art of finger-flicking at the international level, they have created a new syntax of slow bowling that finds its most eloquent expression in the shortest form. Countless batsmen have been driven to desperately wild flailing after a few fumbling gropes.

Of course, it's not merely about the mid-innings choke. If it is swinging or zipping off the pitch, the new ball presents the perfect opportunity for wickets. Australia have based their attack on pace, and the combination of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Shane Watson has rarely failed to provide them a breakthrough in the first five overs.

Starc has been the best of the lot, and in his short career, he has managed to do what Mitchell Johnson struggled to achieve over years: swing it back in. He bowls with pace, his height gets him bounce off a length, and apart from the occasional wide down leg, he rarely bowls an outright poor ball. To hit him for a boundary involves risk, and though Watson has managed more wickets in the tournament, he has undoubtedly benefited from Starc's hostile parsimony at the other end.

It would be naïve, even outrageous, to suggest that T20 furthers the cause of bowling or helps the development of bowlers. In fact, because it is fundamentally rooted in denying runs rather than attack, it can blunt wicket-taking skills. But in the hands of skilful operators, it creates a different kind of contest between the bat and the ball, which can be compelling.

It is no surprise that three out of the four semi-finalists possess the most skillful and varied bowling attacks in the tournament. Sri Lanka perhaps have the most balanced team, with a variety of batsmen to complement a variety of bowlers. Australia have the strongest pace attack, with three bowlers of contrasting styles, and Brad Hogg adds the required touch of mystery. But Pakistan provide the best example of a team being carried far on the back of their bowlers. They have all kinds: a right-arm quick who can bowl fast yorkers and slow cutters; a left-arm new-ball bowler with a tricky action; an offspinner who has mastered the doosra, and another who can bowl flat and tight with the new ball; a legspinner who can skid and fizz it; and a young left-arm spinner with a wonderful temperament.

Can we say may the best bowlers win?

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Philip on October 6, 2012, 22:35 GMT

    Bowlers are definitely the revelation and saviour of this T20WC and how necessary that is. However, we don't need a repetition too soon. A balanced schedule will give the winner of this tournament a chance to hold the trophy for a while. A decent break between World Cups makes it all the more important. That's why an Olympic gold matters more than winning many sports' annual world championships. So balance in T20 starts with bat and ball, but must extend to T20 fitting in with Tests and first class fixtures.

  • Ramana on October 5, 2012, 19:47 GMT

    Good job by the Sri Lankan curators : we need these kind of pitches to make T20s compelling viewing. @getsetgopk : whats that abt Indian bowlers ? strange with a supposedly superior bowling line-up, why is Pak always losing to IND in WC matches ? since 1992, thats 20 years now. ODI WCs : 1992, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2011. T20 WC s: 2007 (twice), 2012. Thats 8 times !! Fact is, bowling / batting can look good on paper. Its the performance on the day that counts.

  • David on October 5, 2012, 10:19 GMT

    well done Sri Lanka on preparing pitches with something for everyone

  • Dummy4 on October 5, 2012, 0:09 GMT

    This has been the case in all the 20/20 World Cups so far. The winners, or the finalists at the very least, have been the ones with the strongest and most varied bowling attacks. The one that sticks out in particular was the final in England between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Those were the two strongest teams in the tournament precisely because they possessed the bowlers capable of restricting the opposing batsmen.

  • Mohammed on October 4, 2012, 10:43 GMT

    INSHA ALLAH we will win pakistan.....

  • Jagu on October 4, 2012, 10:37 GMT

    @ getsetgopk I can understand where your frustration is coming from....I guess Pakistan can make the boundaries in Pakistan to be 55 Meters ohh wait they do not play International cricket in Pakistan. It is just a case of sour grapes. So relax and take a chill pill. SA & Pakistan are the best bowling attack but I guess Last week they got beaten by India at a Neutral venue in front of a hostile crowd. SO do learn to acknowledge other teams performances as well. Cheers!!

  • sachit on October 4, 2012, 10:33 GMT

    At the start of the series some fans ,with limited insight claimed the series will be a flop as in terms of pitches and crowds. Few Days later the crowds packed the stadiums and witnessed some of the closest T20 contests. I don't think there ever was two tied t20s in a single WC let alone one. Pallekele was undoubtedly the best track of all.

  • Rupert on October 4, 2012, 10:24 GMT

    One must look at cricket in a practical sense. T 20 is definitely the future of cricket and the only workable way to go about it with an eye on future olympic games and TV coverage. Eurosport now accomodates T20 cricket in their sendings.(alleluiah!)This would be impossible with Test cricket or even 50 over ODI's. Lets embrace this forum and support it whole heartedly. I'm sure many purists woúld frown on my comments but thats OK. I'm shameless and open for abuse! On the whole a well drawn up article by Sambit.

  • Dummy4 on October 4, 2012, 10:18 GMT

    Very balanced article and summary of T 20 WC except the pen slip at the performance of curators. There is no doubt that Pakistan has good bowling variation but lacks penetration in fast bowling. Junaid khan could have proven better . Pakistan have poor opening pair from stone age and that is putting break in run rate and build pressure on coming batsmen. may best team prevail...my guess is W Indies

  • Dummy4 on October 4, 2012, 9:33 GMT

    Now everyone can see there are only 4 teams left for SEMI-FINALS: Just check in four teams how many batsman could get MOM. SL and PAK(4 Players 1 each). AUS (1 Player 4 times) and W.I (2 Players 1 each). It means SL and PAK have more match winner in their teams then W.I. whereas Aussies have only 1. So that you can say today Semi-Final will be the FINAL of WT20.

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