March 11, 2011

Spin is in

The World Cup pitches are going to get slower and lower as summer sneaks in. Dhoni will need a regular spinner to bowl in the Powerplays

Winter, or what we had of it, is saying goodbye and the World Cup is scrubbing itself clean of its influence. The second half will be quite different and teams will have to gear up to the new challenges on the way. Pitches will start getting drier, outfields quicker, and players will discover that their intake of fluids has increased steadily.

It probably means that spin will have a greater role to play, even more than it currently has. Already throwing the ball to a slow bowler in the Powerplays, once considered a surprise, a fad, is becoming normal. It is a strange game: the spinners are bowling the new ball and the quicks are waiting for the shine to go off a bit. It's all happening, Bill Lawry might say.

We saw first signs of that with MS Dhoni giving Ashish Nehra only one over with the new ball against Netherlands. Zaheer Khan got three, and by the sixth over there was spin at both ends. Being able to cut and pull and stand up to pace are no longer qualities you need from an opening batsman. More interestingly, around the 30th over both Nehra and Zaheer were back, this time to get the ball to swing the other way (by the way, which is the right way now?) before it was changed after the 34th over.

Indeed, as pitches get drier and the surfaces more abrasive, the ball will swing the other way quicker. Already the slow-motion cameras are showing little bits of leather coming off the ball within 10 overs and I won't be surprised if we start seeing more of that. It means teams will need more bowlers who can take the pace off the ball.

Already teams are adapting. The mighty South Africans, they of the muscular hit-the-deck variety of bowling, have played three spinners. In one of their games they had Johan Botha, Robin Peterson and Imran Tahir, plus Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy and Graeme Smith himself to turn to. Old warhorses must be spluttering into their Castles at the sight.

Only Australia, among all the teams at the World Cup, are sticking to their guns, and they have some big cannons. It is not a contrarian view but one that they have thoughtfully opted for. When bowlers can bowl fast in the air, it doesn't really matter how slow the tracks are, and they have picked genuinely fast bowlers. It helps them overcome the drought they are facing with spin bowlers. They could have come to the World Cup with more reliable but slower bowlers, but that would have been fraught with danger. This is not a medium-pacer's tournament.

The heat will affect them but the team that has the most questions to answer with the bowling is India. In a couple of matches, significantly against weaker teams, Yuvraj Singh has been able to gloss over the shortcomings but on flat decks against strong batting sides India's bowling will look very inadequate. I won't be surprised if the track at the Chinnaswamy was the last batting paradise India will play on. Expect slow, low surfaces where the ball will grip a bit.

The need to have slow bowlers using the new ball in the Powerplays will impact India's selection policy too. Yusuf Pathan cannot be a regular in the early overs, and Dhoni would dearly like Harbhajan Singh to play as a wicket-taker in the middle overs. You don't need to be too intelligent to deduce that it means R Ashwin, happy to use the new ball, must play. It also means that Piyush Chawla must make way, and that is where Dhoni's selections have baffled many.

I wonder sometimes if the fact that he wanted Chawla in the first place is causing him to try and prove a point. That can happen if the captain goes out on a limb and insists on a player and keeps playing him to justify the selection. I can't help thinking, though, that Dhoni is too clever a captain to do that and maybe he wants to keep Ashwin away from the other teams and throw him in as a surprise. We'll know soon, but Chawla cannot complain he didn't have the captain's faith.

It is going to be a week of jostling for positions and once the two points are in the bag, it will be a question of getting that net run rate up.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Vikranth on March 14, 2011, 21:54 GMT

    Actually India has a good batting order....Now their minus is bowling...they fear a lot in battin and misses out in bowling....its better to go with suresh raina and r ashwin instead of virat kohli and yusuf pathan so that india will get a spinner who can really bowl in powerplay n initial overs. though r ashwin goes for runshe is a wicket taker...also suresh raina will be better as he can change gears....virat kohli plays slowly but cant go hard similarly yusuf can hit the ball long but he cant stay in pitch for long time....if these changes takes place...india will have a balanced team to face any challenges. we can clearly see the england and south africa odi..that batsmen assault is the only reason for loss of the game....last 10 overs 30 for 8 wicket..wats the use of having a long battin order? if we had an additional definitely we might have won the game....

  • Sushant on March 14, 2011, 18:13 GMT

    It is very rare that Captains take Batting powerplay in the 16th over. If a team has done well scoring fluently without losing not more than 2 wickets (similar to what India did against South Africa) in the first and second power play (assuming it has been taken by fielding side), i think batting team should take powerplay in the 16th over and continue to bat the way they were batting in the first two powerplays. There are several advantages of this strategy: * Ball comes well on to the bat early in the innings. * Mostly frontline bowlers are used in the first 15 overs and this strategy would make the fielding team bowl the powerplay with other bowlers or continue with the tired frontline bowlers - adv to batsman. * There would be continuity in the batting approach rather than sudden change of gear which happens if the powerplay is taken towards the end. * If main bowlers are used in the first twenty overs, batting team will get good idea which bowlers will be bowling end overs

  • Sudhir on March 14, 2011, 16:50 GMT

    Think that Dhoni is too clever a captain to keep playing Chawla.Wish d' strategy is to use Ashwin as a SURPRISE element once the knockouts start.Time wld soon witness if Ashwin can deliver all the pressures mounting for his inclusion whilst Chawla & Nehra can't complain they didn't have the captain's faith! Might well be the end of Nehra's international career after the WC...

    But,let us all remember that our much acclaimed batting power has more Questions to answer too......

  • Ashok on March 14, 2011, 13:52 GMT

    Think Ashwin will play against west indies in his homw town.Ashwin deserves his place in playing 11..

  • Dummy4 on March 14, 2011, 13:17 GMT

    The Indian captain seems to be too smart. thats why he gave the last over to nehra, who was failure in that match and who is a failure in all recent matches he played. Dhoni kept Harbajan for the last over and he didnt use Baji? I didnt get this logic of Dhoni. The only 2 bowlers we can depend is zaheer and baji at this moment. so nehra is waste. once can bring raina in this position. another blunder Dhoni is making by not giving chance for Ashwin. For when he is going to bring him, when we are out of the tournament????. or he will not give chance to ashwin? this is bad cricket as long as you keep a good slow bowler in the bench when he is the only capable person of using the new ball in the middle overs as harshe pointed in this article. And I dont get the point of giving chance to a bowler who is continually a failure for more that 2 tournaments-NEHRA. Any way DHONI should bring sree and Ashwin instead of NEHRA AND CHAWLA at least from next match.

  • Dummy4 on March 14, 2011, 6:45 GMT

    like what Harsha says about Australia...I think srisanth is only genuine fast bowler we have who can replace Nehra at least in the match against West Indies....Having said that there is not any question of Harbhajan getting off..he is nt taking wickets but can anybody question his run saving ability...teams now are pretty intelligently playing this Sikh because of his skills....So the only option we have got is Ashwin replacing Chawla...If Praveen can be taken back in the squad that would be delight to watch in the light of Nehra's disaster

  • Ravi on March 14, 2011, 2:44 GMT

    'Dhoni is too clever a captain to do that and maybe he wants to keep Ashwin away from the other teams and throw him in as a surprise' : I really hope that's the case. Probably Dhoni knows his IPL mate (Ashwin) too well and knows he's capable of performing under pressure. I remember Dhoni saying that Ashwin can come in and perform anytime but Chawla needs confidence. Ashwin should feel good by these words.

  • Srinivas on March 14, 2011, 1:31 GMT

    I think Chawla and Nehra are no good. Also Munaf is not an aggressive bowler. He does't have variety and pace. Not sure why they did not try Sreesanth. He is a wicket taking bowler. I would go for Ishant and sreesaanth any day instead of Nehra and Munaf. No wonder Indian bowling looks weak. Raina needs to replace Yousuf. Yousuf is not convincing against big teams. He should only play against small teams. Basically I don't see a place for him in the team but the selectors and the captain thinks different. Younger pathan is better. He at least thinks before doing something.

  • Dummy4 on March 13, 2011, 22:49 GMT

    just in regards to MS Dhoni's comments After defeat that Game should be played for country not for Crowd by hitting sixes n fours. Can we pls ask him if that is the case why did he promote Yusuf Pathan up the order. He should've stuck with normal line up n let Yk Pathan come down the order.....

  • Dummy4 on March 13, 2011, 20:00 GMT

    I am extremely happy that India has lost. No, don't think I am not a true Indian or I do not want them to win. I want them to win and am quite confident also that they will win.

    Come'on guys we are Indians. And as long as I know an Indian nature we are always better that usual better when we are hurt. Just peek into the past. Any series in last 2-3 years. We have given our best shots when we lost the first game, including recent series against proteas. Leave the Indian team aside and have a look at your own past. When have you performed extra ordinary? That was exactly when you were lost or challenged or doubts were raised about your talent, skill,ability, etc..

    So now it does not really matter what team we have playing next games. I believe WE CAN, WITH THE SAME TEAM THAT LOST can win the world cup now. Didn't you guys see the every team person hurt? Now, I on behalf of Indian team, dare, bring out world's all time great players and this very team will crush them.

    Regards Adorn.

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