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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

Sambit Bal

October 3, 2012

Comments: 23 | Text size: A | A

Mitchell Starc was among those getting an early wicket, Australia v Ireland, World Twenty20 2012, Group B, Colombo, September 19, 2012
Mitchell Starc has been both hostile and economical © Getty Images
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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

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Posted by ygkd 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.

Posted by cheguramana 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.

Posted by MrPud on (October 5, 2012, 10:19 GMT)

well done Sri Lanka on preparing pitches with something for everyone

Posted by   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.

Posted by imran27786 on (October 4, 2012, 10:43 GMT)

INSHA ALLAH we will win pakistan.....

Posted by jagu1976 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!!

Posted by 9ST9 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.

Posted by St.John 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.

Posted by   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 guess is W Indies

Posted by   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.

Posted by doubtingthomas on (October 4, 2012, 9:12 GMT)

You've done it. By repetition of exposure, an outright mockery has been turned into a legitimate quest. Analysing T20's nuances further only coerces in cricket fraternity to accept it as the next step in World Cricket. But on the other side, let's also see the number of players who had their priorities wrong, and their careers stifled into short, obscenely rewarding spells instead of long, staid careers. Many of those could've become legends of cricket, but that's something we'll never know now, thanks to the blink and miss successes and failures. So in one calender year, we have 2 months for IPL, one for World T20, and another 2 months for Champions League.

Posted by SuperSaj on (October 4, 2012, 8:42 GMT)

Paks have a very good spin attack buyt its rubbish to say their pace attack is anythng other than average. The truth is other than M. Asif's & M. Amir brief career and very brief careers respectively there has not been a single consistent match winning Pak fast bowler since Shoiab Aktar who debuted over 15 years ago. Check the stats and see if a single one has averaged 30 or under in tests and/or odis since 2005 or even the last 5 years

Posted by PadMarley on (October 4, 2012, 8:39 GMT)

"design or accident" .... when you give some credit to curators, mean it dude!! this tournament has so far produced some of the best competitive / balaned pitches ...

Posted by RAJA_khan24 on (October 4, 2012, 8:37 GMT)

Raza Hassan will be Pakistan Future Super star.........

Posted by   on (October 4, 2012, 8:24 GMT)

80's was when their was a real contest between batters & bowlers. Then times changed, more was invested in batters, pitches favored them and that led to the art of fast bowling diminish faster than 150 mph. Now cricket is dominated by batsmen, and in this day and age, its spin attacks today which are making up for the Marshals, and Imrans and Lillees and Bothams. Therefore the Ajmals and Mendiss and Narines should get the respect they deserve. For this one reason, it was stupid of ICC not to consider Ajmal for ICC award nominations.

Posted by jonesy2 on (October 4, 2012, 7:58 GMT)

thing is with most of the spinners like mendis and narine is they either rip through a batting side or get carted around for 12 runs an over.

Posted by bouncer1021 on (October 4, 2012, 7:46 GMT)

No doubt that these matches have been more absorbing and exciting than IPL or BPL slugfest on flat batting tracks.

Posted by Romanticstud on (October 4, 2012, 7:14 GMT)

The T20 World Cup did a mockery on the rankings ... Prior to the World Cup ... Australia were the "Weakest" team in their group ... And were given the second place in the group irrespective of the group performance ... They finished top of course ... and West Indies second ... West Indies are their opponents again ... but it may not have been if the rankings were not taken into account ... West Indies would have played with New Zealand ... India and South Africa ... Australia would have played ... Sri-Lanka ... Pakistan ... England based on pool results ... Pre tournament favorites South Africa and India went by the way side ... as did England ... West-Indies and Sri-Lanka were also dubbed as strong sides ... but not Australia ... until they beat India and South Africa ... My Current Rankings 1) Australia, 2) Sri-Lanka 3) West Indies 4) Pakistan 5) India 6) England 7) New Zealand 8) South Africa ... Rankings should be reset at the end of the world cup ... as per World cup performance.

Posted by getsetgopk on (October 4, 2012, 7:07 GMT)

And of course it has been a bowlers game all throughout. Just look at the best T20 sides today SA and Pak both have trumendous bowling lineups and have a win/loss ratio of around 1.6. The so called best batting lineup of India has a mediocre record in this format in particular though other formats aren't any different. There batting lineup is pretty average to be honest, just because they score a double hundred on 60 meter boundries in India and all you see is India fans running around delusional. The fact is to have a winner team you have to have good bowlers the sooner you realize this the better.

Posted by randikaayya on (October 4, 2012, 7:03 GMT)

an excellent tournament, played infront of excellent and diverse crowds. Definitely the best T20 WC up to date. The most interesting to note are the amount of original support for all major teams. Teams like Aussies, English have always had travelling support in Sri Lanka but to see New Zealand, West Indies and South Africa having hundreds of fans travelling with the teams to go with those Indian and Pakistani masses is really really heartening!! Sri Lanka have announced themselves as a magnanimous host and more good times lay ahead for visiting teams and support. Weldone

Posted by Syed_imran_abbas on (October 4, 2012, 6:45 GMT)

Ajmal is no doubt a majician. Starc is aus future. watson has always been very good. Raza hassan is very impressive. I hope pakistan's batting fires in now onwards. if afridi can perform bit better that will really lift whole team. figures are crossed.

Posted by KingOwl on (October 4, 2012, 6:06 GMT)

We should not say, 'may the bowlers win'. We need balance between bat and ball, as always. The pitches have been fantastic so far. Hope this trend will continue.

Posted by CriticallyCricket on (October 4, 2012, 5:36 GMT)

Should give credit to SL Board and the Groundstaff for preparing Competetive Pitches that has something for All Bowlers and Batsmen!

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Sambit Bal Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.

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