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It's a bowler's game

The World Cup has been as good as it has been because batsmen haven't dictated terms

Sambit Bal

March 22, 2011

Comments: 107 | Text size: A | A

Umar Gul gets rid of Ruvindu Gunasekera, Canada v Pakistan, Group A, World Cup 2011, Colombo, March 3, 2011
Umar Gul: the best quick bowler on show in the tournament so far © Getty Images

This World Cup was meant to be won by the bat. It may well yet be. But among the most heartening features of this tournament has been that bowlers have given us so much pleasure. In fact, they have been the soul of tournament, providing, as only they can do, most of the twists that have kept the matches buzzing. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the two best bowling sides have topped the groups.

Somewhat surprisingly, only five scores of 300-plus have been made in matches involving two Test nations. Unsurprisingly, four of these, plus two near-300 scores, have come in matches involving India. They have had the batting might, despite the late-innings crashes, to pile up the runs, and lacked the bowling teeth to prevent their opponents from getting them or getting close. This has made for close and exciting games, but mercifully big scores have not been the norm.

South Africa and Pakistan have brought the most surprises. South Africa for the manner in which they have liberated themselves of the self-imposed shackles of the past. They have played a legspinner, opened the bowling with a left-arm spinner, had an offpinner bowl in the bowling Powerplay, and incredibly, played three spinners in their first match. Their boldness has been rewarded. Two of their spinners feature among the top 10 wicket-takers of the tournament, and they have gone for around four runs an over.

The faith in spin has given Graeme Smith a wonderfully varied bowling attack. South Africa have had swing, both traditional and reverse, hustle and bounce, and a right-arm medium fast bowler to do the holding job; in addition to the full gamut of spin. Apart from at Nagpur, where the combination of a flat pitch and the brilliance of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag led to them being taken for nearly 300 runs, South Africa have not conceded more than 250. Even in Nagpur their bowlers staged a sensational rally, taking nine wickets for 29. They are the only side to have bowled out their opponents in all six of their matches, and they share the best economy rate (4.31) with Sri Lanka.

Pakistan, as might have been expected of them, have sprung the biggest surprise by finishing their group ahead of Sri Lanka and Australia, and they have done so entirely on the back of their bowling. Only one of their batsmen, Umar Akmal, features among the top 30 run-getters in this World Cup - and he's at No. 27. But their bowling has been even more varied than South Africa's, and despite the four-over massacre at the hands of New Zealand, their economy rate is second, at 4.36 runs per over.

Shahid Afridi, who has now abandoned all pretensions to being a batsman, is the tournament's leading wicket-taker. He has been crafty and cunning, constantly varying his pace and trajectory, sliding some in quick, floating a few, fizzing others, getting some to turn away, some to come in with the arm, and some just to go straight. It boggles the mind that a man who can show such intelligence with the ball can be so headless with the bat.

Umar Gul has been a worthy partner. Easily the best quick bowler in this World Cup, he has taken wickets both at the top of the innings and at the end, by moving both the new ball and the old. Only against Sri Lanka could he be said to have had a bad match. And the only time Pakistan have conceded over 300 (against New Zealand), Gul was magnificent, with 3 for 32. In fact, New Zealand launched their spectacular assault only after Gul's overs had been exhausted during the batting Powerplay. He and Afridi have claimed 30 wickets between them in the tournament so far, the highest by any two bowlers. Robin Peterson and Imran Tahir are a close second with 26.

Bowlers have been the soul of tournament, providing, as only they can do, most of the twists that have kept the matches buzzing. It is no coincidence that the two best bowling sides have topped the groups

The rest of Pakistan's bowlers have played their part. Mohammad Hafeez has been tight, Wahab Riaz has taken wickets, and even Shoaib Akhtar, limping and a shadow of his swaggering self, helped win the match against Sri Lanka by shattering the stumps twice at crucial times. Above all, Pakistan's playing XI features the whole range of bowlers: a right-arm fast bowler who can seam and swing it, a left-arm quick, a right-arm medium-pacer, a legspinner, a left-arm spinner and an offspinner.

Bowlers have shone for other teams too. Even though many of them haven't been able to last the distance, bowlers have underpinned England's erratic campaign. Graeme Swann has been magnificent, the architect of two of their wins in low-scoring thrillers, and Tim Bresnan has been their most reliable quick. For Australia, who have, in acknowledgement of their thin spin resources, chosen a high-octane fast-bowling attack, Brett Lee has made a vigorous comeback, bowling with speed and menace. Even though erratic, Shaun Tait has bent the old ball in, and Mitchell Johnson has bowled without fanfare but efficiently enough. For Sri Lanka, Muttiah Muralitharan has been both economical and wicket-taking, as usual, and he has brought all his experience and skills to bear on bowling in the batting Powerplay. Lasith Malinga, who made a late entry, warmed up to the task with a hat-trick from searing yorkers.

While the numbers might show a skewed picture because a large number of matches have featured the associates, filtering them out gives us a good story too. Against Test batting sides, 25 bowlers have averaged 5 runs or fewer per over. India have only two on this list - Zaheer Khan, who has been excellent, and Harbhajan Singh - and they bring up the rear. But that three legspinners - Afridi, Tahir and Devendra Bishoo - feature in the top 20 is worthy of celebration.

West Indies' batting has been shambolic, and it has cost them two wins, against England and India. But one of the high points of the World Cup was watching Kemar Roach and Bishoo operate together after England had got off to a rollicking start. It would be perfidy to compare them to Shane Warne and Brett Lee or Waqar Younis and Mushtaq Ahmed, but a fast bowler and legspinner bowling to take wickets, even if in one-dayers, is one of the most thrilling experiences in cricket. And for a few overs, as the English batsmen fumbled and groped against the two, cricket was on a high.

For all this we should be thankful to the pitches. In Colombo there has been seam, reverse-swing, and of course, spin. Chittagong has been slow, low and turning; Mirpur only a bit better, but hardly a batsman's dream; Bangalore and Nagpur have been beautiful for batting, but Chennai has produced the most interesting strips, and thus among the most absorbing matches. There has been grip and turn, and bounce in the early overs, which has grown unpredictable with time.

We have seen all kinds of matches in the tournament: high-scoring thrillers and low-scoring thrillers, a tie, lots of collapses, and a few utter routs.

A bowlers' World Cup in the subcontinent. Who would have imagined it.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by zarasochozarasamjho on (March 24, 2011, 20:22 GMT)

Yet another very interesting article from Sambit - so true to say that bowling has made this WC in the sub-continent so exhilarating, and may this contniue to the end.

Posted by Beertjie on (March 23, 2011, 19:56 GMT)

It won't be fast bowlers who'll win the world cup. If India, it''ll be Ashwin/Bhajji; if Pakistan Afridi/Hafeez; if South Africa Tahir/Botha/Petersen; if Sri Lanka Murali/Mendes. This is why, as a life-long Aussie supporter, I expect them to depart to-morrow!

Posted by sweetspot on (March 23, 2011, 18:17 GMT)

The best bowling sides are topping the groups only because not many teams have great batting line ups. If Australia were the merciless run machine they were with Gilly and Haydos at the top, they would hammer any bowling attack out of the way. India has ostensibly the weaker attack and they have bowled out nearly every opposition so far. It is fun to see bowlers doing well, but to be fair, a lot of this WC's pitches have also assisted bowlers to some extent, unlike the flat tracks expected on the subcontinent.

Posted by vipinchaudhary2325 on (March 23, 2011, 14:35 GMT)

If India win QF.... dere is 99% dat dey will win Final also... but Winning QF is da biggest difficulty dey have to face....

Posted by Khuram76 on (March 23, 2011, 10:47 GMT)

Yap it is bowlers world cup, Afridi or as Ian Chappelel says "idiot" just took another three wickets and reducing WI to 71 for 8. Who is an idiot now Mr. Chappelle. let me tell you about an idiot who was suggesting to ban Pak from test cricket, Listen you "idiot" it took 120 years or so for cricket to produce 8 test playing nations and you would like to see the team who has produced most exciting players in the history of cricket. I live in Australia and let me tell you they do cry when they lose so please forgive Mr Chappelle it is just a national dilemma for them :)

Posted by   on (March 23, 2011, 7:39 GMT)

Hello again, I'm wondering why my comment was not posted. Please let me know if there is a problem. Comment I made about Y.Pathan's talent should be made full use of, by batting higher up the order. It was sent on 21/03/2011. It's hard to understand how SA can come to the sub continent and dominate with spin bowlers. Their slow bowlers bowling 10 overs for 30 odd runs, against mighty Indian batting. And they have Y.Pathan who can destroy those bowlers. Y.Pathan comes in the last couple of overs, or the power play, when the fast bowlers are firing in yorkers and having to go at it right away, is not making right use of his prowess. I really want India to win this WC, if they don't, I'll Know that they did'nt use their resources properly. Please post my cumment, I humbly entreat thee to. GO INDIA GOOO.......................

Posted by PradeepWinner on (March 23, 2011, 6:10 GMT)

For Autralia to win, they need a left hand batsman at the top. It would be good to promote Mitchell Johnson to 1-down

Posted by sayedshabiabbas on (March 23, 2011, 5:35 GMT)

Well done Sambit great. You have analyse this world cup quite briliantly....

Posted by   on (March 23, 2011, 5:33 GMT)

I wish India emulates the SL team of 1996..they didn't have exceptional bowlers(surely good ones but not exceptional) but had great batting might!

Posted by Vinod on (March 23, 2011, 5:24 GMT)

India should play Sreesanth instead of Munaf Patel. Munaf doesn't look like taking wickets. Sreesanth played well against Australia in the warm-up match. He normally gives his best while playing against Australia.

Posted by   on (March 23, 2011, 5:19 GMT)

As Predicted by Mr. Sambit this is going to be a Bowler's World Cup....and like he said Pakistan and Australia have the best Chance at this Right now... May the Better one Win...:)

Posted by Boyapatis on (March 23, 2011, 5:11 GMT)

Pakistan will have a tough chance against West Indies as Gayle and Roach will be back in the team for QF. Pakistan team is most unpredictable team in this world cup. i think it has only 50% chance of winning against West indies.

Posted by harshthakor on (March 23, 2011, 4:29 GMT)

To me this world cup has been a victory for the 50 over International game and for one day cricket in the subcontinent.There has never been a more evenly contested world cups with the pendulum swinging constantly like an enthralling climax of a Holylwood epic thriller.In spite of sub-continent tracks even 225-275 totals have been match-winning or competitive scores which is a tribute to the groundsman's preparations of pitches.

Sadly however the batting standards have declined and no team's performances in this edition are comparable to the great World Cup champions of the past like West Indies ,Australia,Pakistan ,Sri Lanka and India or even the competitive world cup teams of yester year like England and South Africa at their best in the World Cup.

Overall with their oustanding balance in every department I tip South Africa to win the cup with Sril Lanka almost on par.

Posted by   on (March 23, 2011, 4:02 GMT)

As an Indian fan, I thought 2003 was very exciting. This one seems more exciting. Will India win the "mini final" against Australia? If we beat them, I think we are cruising to lift the cup!

Posted by   on (March 23, 2011, 3:01 GMT)

We need a bowler who can place some commonsense while bowling. This might be the time to take Praveen Kumar who is way better than Ashish Nehra and Munnaf Patel. He is better in fielding compared to those two, and listens to his captain. Dhoni & Selectors please replace Sreesanth with praveen kumar. He is fit and ready to play.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 22:58 GMT)

@deepak:: u cant compare Zaheer Khan with Gul there is hell alot of difference in class ,swing and pace .

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 22:43 GMT)

In this WC too only Indian matches have been high scoring as is not possible that on a day when India play on wicket it becomes flat and in another match on the same wicket, the wicket becomes bowler friendly.............but this happens always whenever & wherever India plays…………………....WHY......this proves only one thing that Indian batting is excellent and their bowling is and has always been extremely poor............Since during rest of season, on Indian tracks India play bilateral series only, hence avg score on all Indian tracks is very high………. But since WC features matches without India too so most non Indian matches are low scoring as was the case in WC 96 too…………….This proves that Asian tracks are not so much batting friendly as people think … it is only pathetic Indian bowling that make them look flat and exceptional Indian batting that destroy the best of opposition bowlers!

Cannot figure out why experts cannot understand this simple fact.

Posted by jango_moh on (March 22, 2011, 22:36 GMT)

Gul has been great, but cannot discount Zaheer, he has been consistently good in all the games, i would rate him as the better fast bowler in the WC..

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 22:30 GMT)

Coming to the business end of tournament a few things the Indian team need to sort out,looking at their performance so far. 1.Even though the top order is batting well,the inability of lower middle order to sustain the tempo and finish well is a matter of concern.This can be traced mainly to the poor form of our captain. He appears to have lost completely the initial flair and flamboyance with which he dominated any bowling attack.Gambhir should be pushed down the order.This would strengthen our lower middle order to tackle the last ten overs and hopefully make Dhoni bat with more freedom.Moreover Kohli would be more comfortable batting at no.3. 2.The uncertainity regarding Yusuf/ Raina is affecting both their performance once picked.Though I love the way Yusuf Pathan bats, Raina may be a better option in the remaining any case they have to be informed earlier 3.Harbhajan should be introduced as late as possible;he is more effective when batsmen go for risky shots

Posted by AdityaMookerjee on (March 22, 2011, 22:23 GMT)

I thought the new strip at Kandy was a cricket paradise. Anyway, I feel that the advent of T-20 cricket is the cause of batsmen taking more risks. Perhaps, the strip has nothing to do with recent world cup matches.

Posted by chocolatecake on (March 22, 2011, 21:22 GMT)

ok then hows about this why not make test cricket and odis more for the bowlers rather than the batsman 2020 should be for the batsmen because it is basically trying to score a lot of runs quickly for a short period of time while tests and odis are about scoring (in the case of odis also scoring at a fairly fast rate) without getting out in my opinion makes more sense

Posted by pipsonian on (March 22, 2011, 20:49 GMT)

@Deepkar: Zaheer has been able to take wickets because he is the only one to take wickets. When there is no pressure from the other end then batsmen get defensive agianst Zaheer and that has brought the downfall for most of them. Plus he has the backing of one of the best batting line ups. Same is not the case with Gul. He has taken wickets despite the fact that there are other strike bowlers in the team plus a poor batting line up. Its better to be the best among the best than to be the best among the ordinary.

Posted by ppsingh on (March 22, 2011, 20:01 GMT)

For me zaheer and umar gul have been the pick of bowlers...pity these two teams would have to clash before final......Indo-Pak final.........bowlers vs batsmen...awesome watch....have to live another day for that

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 19:45 GMT)

india will crush out of the worldcup in QF against AUS

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 19:42 GMT)

@Deepkar: no disrespect to zak.... but he's at best a medium pacer... we are talking about quickies here... lee, styne, gul, malinga...

Posted by cric009 on (March 22, 2011, 19:31 GMT)

@fiqbal - I completly agree with u. ODI and test matches are real test for a team. It's unfortunate these days, the change in modern cricket makes batters more and more strong whereas bowlers r on receiving side. Well, i wil not b surprised if Ind being a weaker bowling side gets into WC final and might even lift the cup. Being india supporter, i'm very critical for india team to completely ignore the bowling importance. They hardly realise this even if they wil loose frm a much balanced side like SA. I hope, they undrstand this soon.

Posted by xylo on (March 22, 2011, 19:20 GMT)

fyi, Malinga's wickets have mostly come against minnows, and Imran Tahir's against tailenders. So, they are not really on an even keel when being compared to other bowlers.

also, the collapse of the indian batting in nagpur has more to do with the slog-happy batsmen rather than the skill of the bowlers. their batsmen have managed to do it against three different oppositions.

Posted by Herath-UK on (March 22, 2011, 19:09 GMT)

An interesting article. One reason for those high scores with Indians is those grounds are small in comparison to Sri Lankan grounds, a very good reason why ICC should standardise the size of all Test playing nations grounds before long. Ranil Herath Kent

Posted by m_ilind on (March 22, 2011, 18:41 GMT)

Yes, even India's weak bowling attack is doing wonders!

Posted by malik86 on (March 22, 2011, 18:12 GMT)

i like that line about afridi "intelligence wid ball n headless wid bat''. wel done sambit1

Posted by KingKashi on (March 22, 2011, 18:05 GMT)

What a nice and beautifull article!!!!!!! Well Done Sambit. I really Enjoyed readin!

Posted by khalidSami on (March 22, 2011, 17:56 GMT)

Sambit great work, but agree completely with @venkatesh018 that UDRS has made the game fairer for the bowlers and echo his call for UDRS in all games. The other reason is probably the overall fitness of the players that enabled some tough catches and competitive bowling possible at the end. I also think that ICC should have a minimum boundary distance requirement, thereby ensuring that locals do not sacrifice cricket ground configuration for more seats.

Posted by cric009 on (March 22, 2011, 17:42 GMT)

I still believe, Ind is one of the worthy favorites bcos of the talent and toughness in mind to face the knockout stages! The only -ve part is , we hav relativly poor bowling. And unfortunately we r not doing anything to strengthen it. If we really wanna win the WC, we must hav balanced team. Not only stronger batting but also equally strong bowling is needed. Remove Bhajji for good, he has just become a batsman cos he cant take wickets anymore. Dhoni - Get extra bowler in the team even at cost of a batsman pls..

Posted by cricfan11 on (March 22, 2011, 16:49 GMT)

Indian bowling has been abysmal in this world cup. In any given match they looked like they can score 400 runs but can give up 500 runs. Also, apart from Zaheer none of them is showing any fire. If things don't go their way they are dropping their shoulders and just going through their motions. Munaf Patel has been a poster child for this incompetency. He doesn't appear to be fit, pathetic in the field and his bowling has been pedestrian.

Posted by cricfan11 on (March 22, 2011, 16:49 GMT)

Indian bowling has been abysmal in this world cup. In any given match they looked like they can score 400 runs but can give up 500 runs. Also, apart from Zaheer none of them is showing any fire. If things don't go their way they are dropping their shoulders and just going through their motions. Munaf Patel has been a poster child for this incompetency. He doesn't appear to be fit, pathetic in the field and his bowling has been pedestrian.

Posted by indianzen on (March 22, 2011, 16:07 GMT)

That's the beauty of Indian Pitches... I am sure that After the Era of Sachin,VVS, Laxman it would be a lot of names which would be argued as to who will play...

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 15:54 GMT)

Bowlers always win a team matches, rather than Batsmen, Sachin can score hundreds but his bowlers wont let him win.

Posted by BnH1985Fan on (March 22, 2011, 14:52 GMT)

As the saying goes in baseball -- "it's the pitching stupid". This article suggests same is true in cricket as well.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 14:44 GMT)

i hanvt read the article in complete but i must say its a gud one with top notch writing.far as this worldcup is concern i believe this event is total success bringing nations like bangladesh, srilanka, india closer to each other, one day a team is playing in their home ground and the other day in any other country. deservingly, i think southafrica should win this worldcup, since thy have probably the best bowling and certainly a batting on which one can rely on ... i wud rank thm higher thn india due to the fact that their team has much more match winners thn india, for instace in the last match btween both of the teams india being crashed by suplnd'd batting performance from a rather mdiocr batsman ( pieterson ). Pakistan should fancy their chances bcoz for thm its shud b jstt the matter of 3 games, they have beatn good teams like srilanka, australia, i want thm to beat evn bettr teams to get the credit of this worldcup !

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 14:26 GMT)

well gul rocks!!! if only he could bowl these tailing in balls every time. lol

Posted by cricketsage on (March 22, 2011, 14:24 GMT)

@venkatesh018, please advise BCCI of this as they are the only Board against implementation of UDRS.

Posted by mrgupta on (March 22, 2011, 13:36 GMT)

The best part of this WC is that currently there is no team which is undefeated which was the norm since last 2 WC when Aussies were unstoppable. None of the teams have looked clear winners. SA have good bowling attack but they lost to Eng and but for Nehra's erratic last over they cud have lost to India as well. The fact that match was decided on the penultimate ball says a lot. India has had its own problem with batting Powerplay and not much support for Zaheer Khan in bowling. Aussies have had their share of problems and against the two better teams of Group A they clearly struggled. SL, as always, were superb against minnows but did not look convincing against better teams. Pakistan as always is unpredictable. They are winning because of their bowlers, the match where bowlers were taken to task (NZ) they lost badly. But in all its been a really good tournament so far and looking forward for some more cracking Cricket in next 11 days.

Posted by StatisticsRocks on (March 22, 2011, 13:12 GMT)

@Shaukat: I don't know why it is surprising to see an Indian praising Pakistan bowlers. It doesn't surprise me to see a Pakistani praise Tendulkar, Dravid. A true cricket fan appreciates the talent. As an Indian I have always been fan of fast bowling especially the likes of Imran, Akram, Waqar, and would love to have a bowler like Gul in the Indian team. It is tru that in this WC Pakistan's bowling is the one that has earned them victories and they are where they are coz of bowling. Hope to see great cricket from here on and sincerely hope that the 3 south Asian teams make it to the final 4.

Posted by addiemanav on (March 22, 2011, 12:57 GMT)

i hav always felt for the bowlers who hav as bigger role as a batsman but are not credited enough!!this tnmnt has been an eye-opener of sorts,where no. of bowlers hav changed the flow of the game for their team!bresnan,steyn,rampaul,all of them took 5wkts against ind & restricted ind to much lesser totals..totals which cud hav been 350,wer 270-290..that is like a 50 ball 100 if u equate to a batsman's contribution!!teams like SA hav used spinners up front,which was unheard from them even 2months ago!teams hav struggled in powerplays!why??coz thats the time when the field comes up and bowler has to attack!in that cat & mouse game,batting team gets 40 odd runs,but loses 3 crucial wkt changing the flow of the game!i wud hav also loved a new addition to the rules,smthing that i hav advocated always,to increase the quota of overs from 10 to 12-13 for the bowlers!batsman can bat for 50 overs,but bowler onlly for 10!it is not ideal!fairness will be there if such changes r brought to ODIs!

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 12:48 GMT)

Sambit, an interesting article and a good point that it has been a bowlers world cup in the sub-continent and not necessarily due to this being a spinners paradise. Good bowlers be it pacers and spinners have both done well and no one team has mastered the batting powerplay well.

In the match against SA, Ravi Shastri made a very interesting observation that India should have taken batting powerplay from overs 16-20 which would have necessitated Smith to bowl Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. After already bowling 5-6 overs, not only would have been difficult for them, it would have meant that the primary bowlers would have almost bowled out within the first 20 overs itself which could have been a great advantage for India. Probably a gamble worth taking and a big trick missed.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 12:40 GMT)

Great article. It shows the diff in class btw India's batting n bowling, Great effort from Zak to lead India's attack.... If Bhajji fires in the knock outs then India's chances will be boosted. Realistically only SA hv shown all round solid game n they r favs in my opinion. Bt it'll tk only one match to derail them. All in all its an open worldcup.

Posted by harshthakor on (March 22, 2011, 12:36 GMT)

It must also be said that despite great competitiveness we have hardly seen outstanding champions in this edition like the great West Indian or Australian champions of yesteryear or other world cup champions like Pakistan,India and Sri Lanka..For that matter I felt even the best non -winning teams of previous world cups played a higher standard of Cricket. England and Pakistan in 1979 and 1987,England in 1992,South Africa and Pakistan in 1999,or Australia in 1975,were superior to any of the current teams.The batting has hardly shown consistent class and the teams do not compare well with the yesteryear champions.

Posted by harshthakor on (March 22, 2011, 12:21 GMT)

I simply put it in one sentence-such cricket is a triumph for limited overs Cricket as well as for one day Cricket on the sub-continent.The 50 over game must survive as it is virtually in today's world requires as much skill as the five day test game and has also has a profound influence on it.I congragulate the groundsman for preparing such tracks which have facilitated enthralling cricket like in Chennai,Colombo etc.On one had teams have chased big 300 + totals on the other hand teams have defended scores of 171,243 etc.We have witnessed some of the most entharalling turn abouts in games like watching an enexpected climax of a hollywood film.

Sadly hower batting standards have strongly declined in this edition with no outstanding team.

Posted by nabeel89 on (March 22, 2011, 11:55 GMT)

@Nikhil - I think you need to wake up mate. I know you are a strong supporter but there is no way India's batting line up is "magnificent" by any chance. Just like Sri Lanka, they India relies heavily on their top 4 batsmen! Once they are out, the others don't know what to do, which was shown in both of last 2 games.. against South Africa and then by West Indies too, who by no means have the best bowling attack in the tournament. and I am pretty sure Aussies will have made a note of that too and Zak has by far been the best bowler of the tournament for India and bhajji isn't really performing like he used to. didn't really have firepower to take alot of wickets so far. but let's see. may the best team win :) @ Deepkar - shouldn't that still be gul or Afridi be the best bowlers. or in terms of leaking runs in powerplays, shouldn't it be Murali who bowled an amazing spell against Pakistan in powerplays. he leaked, i think. 5 or 6 runs in his powerplay overs.....

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 11:45 GMT)

Brilliant article Samit, the best analysis and insight into this world cup I have yet come across x)

Posted by sara_1976 on (March 22, 2011, 11:42 GMT)

India's bowlig is weak.Ashwin should be included rest of the matches to strenthen the bowling.He has prooved his tallent even in power play overs in last match aganist WI. GOOD LICK INDIA GO AHEAD.

Posted by golgo_85 on (March 22, 2011, 11:27 GMT)

Deepkar, it's more of Eng wilting under pressure than how they delt with "Zak" that cost them the game I'm afraid. But I'd be happy to reward "the best quick so far" crown to Bret Lee if Gul wasn't as consistent as he is right now playing the supporting role so effortlessly.We'll have to see how Lee performs in India in a couple of days where the pitches are curated specially for the Indians on any day to compensate for their, quite frankly, rubbish bowling attack. I mean, its a World Cup and the strike bowler for them really seems to be Yuvraj Singh! Anyway, India have a more realistic chance of winning the World Cup than any other team mainly 'cause how consistent they are with the bat. If they pile up runs which they will on any Indian pitch, the opposition will be either over cautious or just hit out whilst facing the hilarity that is the Ind bowling attack. I can forsee the day, rather miserably perhaps,of an Ind-Eng final(I'm not English), Sachin's 100th 100, a moaning Swann...

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 11:07 GMT)

ermmm .... maybe Im seeing it wrong or maybe Mr. Sambit got a bit over excited but the last time I checked an economy rate of 4.21 was better than 4.31 ;)

Posted by stormy16 on (March 22, 2011, 11:07 GMT)

Interesting article and yes I also expected all batting records to be under threat but its been anything but that. I think the bowlers have also 'advanced' from say the late 90's when the batsman started to be aggressive and the bowlers looked lost for a while. Change of pace, reverse swing, slow bounces, spinners in the power play have all seen the quality of the bowling improve to make it a proper contest once again. Very true comment on Afridi and it never ceases to amaze me with this guys and his batting!! What on earth is he thinking? He can win games on his batting alone but has somehow settled for a strange option which invariably fails in recent times.

Posted by Spelele on (March 22, 2011, 10:52 GMT)

Oh no! Gul the "obvious" best quick? Plz, all his wickets were taken in meaningless encounters against the minnows. Only Steyn has rattled even the "mighty" Indian middle order with a sensational spell of fast bowling. Same with Afridi, he has dismantled the minnows while being pretty mediocre against the real big guns. But no worries, all these overrated bunnies will be exposed come the Quater finals:)

Posted by govindkumar on (March 22, 2011, 10:48 GMT)

I think bowling is biggest wory for indian team,our bowler can't defend big total.they are not able to take wicket in crucial stages.In my view team management must give the chance for sreesanth, because his performance against assies is good & he play against him with passion.

Posted by Morfi on (March 22, 2011, 10:43 GMT)

of fast bowler - leggie combos, how is Umar Gul and Afridi for you .. :D)

Posted by AjaySridharan on (March 22, 2011, 10:42 GMT)

Always makes for good viewing when there is a good balance between bat and ball. Sachin getting tested with a snorter from Ravi Rampaul certainly makes it for interesting viewing. I do agree with other readers, that this tournament has so far lacked any meaningful matches and served up inconsequential thrillers. Usual suspects have made it to the knockouts, and now we will be deprived of good tussles between quality teams. One bad day in the office and you are out!

For the kind of pitches we've had so far, this would have been an unbelievable tournament had the format been thought out well in advance.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 10:34 GMT)

but again only Sri Lankan pitches supported the bowlers which favoured pakistan and australian sides ... however in big matches which are scheduled in indian will be in favour of bat.... Indians pitches should also support the bowling as well

Posted by wakaPAK on (March 22, 2011, 10:33 GMT)

I'd say bowling is reliable, if you have strong bowling you'll win or at least you will be in winnable situation but batting sometimes do not click, we see collapses... So Beware India!!

Posted by adnanhsyed on (March 22, 2011, 10:27 GMT)

Imagine what would have happened, if UDRS was introduced earlier than it was. Just one little example. Adam Gilchrist was out LBW in only 3 test innings out of 75 played in Australia while Sachin Tendulkar was dismissed in this fashion 9 out of 30 Test innings played in Australia. Both are great players but one getting 4% of his dismissals as LBW and the other 30%, in the same country, is mind boggling.

Posted by wc1992 on (March 22, 2011, 10:21 GMT)

you are watching a legend playing ... people will forget tendulker after while but not ONE and only Afridy ......Legend of Afaridi

Posted by bas_bindaas on (March 22, 2011, 10:19 GMT)

It's an excellent article - a well presented analysis of the features of this world cup with lots of data to support it.

However, I found a copy error (which is rare in cricinfo) in the article - Pakistan's bowling economy rate has been mentioned as 4.21 where it should have been 4.36.I am mentioning the exact line below..

But their bowling has been even more varied than South Africa's, and despite the four-over massacre at the hands of New Zealand, their economy rate is second , at 4.21 runs per over.

Posted by mysay on (March 22, 2011, 10:05 GMT)

Dear Deepkar ZAK taking wickets when batsmen are slogging at the end over's does not make him a good bowler. Its comments like yours that make India an overrated team bound for the inevitable defeat come 24th. You should only hope that Mr. Flash in a pan UV has more flashes in there to make some sort off a match worth watching. However I have a gut feeling that India is going to give us all a great gift, which is lose fast in order for us to have an early night. Gosh thanks you Indian Lads.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 9:21 GMT)

shafiul bowled wonderfully against ireland,our spinners did well to get england within a small total,and there is no mention,no disrespect,but they are worth mentioning if you are to talk about bowlers in this world cup.

Posted by ashrogue on (March 22, 2011, 9:21 GMT)

Only Inida has never (in this tournament so far) allowed any bowling side to dominate them. They have taken every bowling attack to the boundaries and partnerships (without any shake or problem). The only time they fumbled (mostly in the last overs) is strictly due to their over eagerness to finish 300+ and the pressure to hit boundaries only. One of the dullest batting performers Sangakkara, Dilshan and Jayawardane are an example of how runs can be piled without flash and glamour that Indian batsmen so often bring to cricket. India's top/middle order has consistently demolished the morale of 'best bowling sides' as you put it. It shows that, however best a bowling side is, if the batting side is clear in its mind (particularly of the batting powerplay), they will drive home their Monarchy. Si bowlers, keep praying that Indian batsmen will continue to fumble by being over greedy, because once they clear their minds, you are gonna have a nightmare (but u already know this. don't u?).

Posted by KiwiRocker- on (March 22, 2011, 9:17 GMT)

Kulkarni: India failed spectacularly against SA while batting and same with West Indies. India also failed to close off batting against England. If you see batting of teams like Australia, SL and even Pakistan, they have scores more consistently. India's bowling has to be one of worse in the world and it is not winning them matches but their batting is actually losing them matches. Pathan was hyped before WC and now he will be dropped. What is Yuvraj's contribution against quality teams. Indian batting is only their top order. Three good top order batsmen and one above average bowler like Zaheer does now win you WC!.. Pakistan has beaten two top ranked teams. Australia and SL had an excellent match while India failed to beat only top ranked team in their easy group and because of that have no ended in a situation that they will cleaned by up Australia in QF or Pakistan in semis while Indian crowd cheers for other teams and great article Sambit...well written, unbiased and detailed.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 9:15 GMT)

I agree totally that its a bowlers world cup. But i don't agree that Umar gul is the best fast bowler in the world cup, Zaheer has been the most convincing fast bowler in the tournament so far. He has bailed out India in almost every match and all the wickets he has taken are a result of his subtle variation and exceptional skills as a fast bowler. Keeping in mind that Zaheer does not possess the pace to match an Umar gul he has done exceptionaly well ,also the wickets taken by zaheer khan have been more crucial as compared to Umar as well as the deliveries which have fetched him the wicket.

It has come to my notice the so called cricket intellectuals have always given precendence to some one who is a close second to make it look different and to stand out. But that is my personal view.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 9:13 GMT)

Only Indian matches have been high scoring as always................Why it happens is not possible that on a day when India play on wicket it becomes flat and in another match on the same wicket, the wicket becomes low scoring.............but this happens always whenever & wherever India plays……...WHY......this proves only one thing that Indian batting is excellent and their bowling is and has always been extremely poor.......Since during rest of season, on Indian tracks India play bilateral series only hence avg score on all Indian tracks is very high………. But since WC features matches without India too so most non Indian matches are low scoring as was the case in WC 96 too…This proves that Asian tracks are not so much batting friendly as people wrongly think … it is only pathetic Indian bowling that make them look flat and exceptional Indian batting that destroy the best of opposition bowlers!

Cannot figure out why experts cannot understand this simple fact.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 9:11 GMT)

"Umar Gul, easily the best quick bowler in this World Cup"... really???

He's bowled very well, has Gul, but Zaheer's gotten 15 wickets @ 14, Roach has 13 @ 12, Lee 12 @ 15, not to mention Steyn, Tait and Johnson who also have fantastic figures

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 8:59 GMT)

I,m a die hard Indian cricket fan. Sachin is my #1 Hero. But here I want to take up the case of Y.Pathan. I think this guy should be given a lot more time in the middle and allow to apply himself, then go after the bowling. I think they are wasting his talent, with him coming in with few overs left and has to go after everything. We all know what he did in SA, when all the big names, that some writers are praising so much, were falling like plums, against Stein and Morkel. He won a match and almost singlehandedly won the final game when they were already dead and bury. I personally think they should send Y.Pathan @ #4 and then India will've no problem winning the WC.If he gets out early,then the rest can steady things as usual. If he clicks no body can stop India. GO..INDIA..GO ........

Posted by chokkashokka on (March 22, 2011, 8:43 GMT)

when you have a line-up like India's - you don't need bowling. My neighbor's kid could bowl and the kangaroos wouldn't be able to chase. India should prepare a slow low rank turner that has the kangaroos spinning all the way back to downundaa - spinning ...spinning Chris Rock would say it.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 8:29 GMT)

Quite an interesting, exhaustive article - clearly giving a picture of how ICC 2011 World Cup is progressing until now - A must read to all cricket lovers !!

Posted by PakZulmi on (March 22, 2011, 8:24 GMT)

Hmm why is it a surprise that sambit has praised Umer Gul, I mean it is quite clear he is the best bowler in the world cup yes Zaheer is at best ok compared to umer gul, Zaheer has got timely wickets and has helped india win a couple of games but still gul has been unplayable..either end or start of the game its not bout wickets its just that fact that gul is simply unplayable at times..never a case with zaheer..

Posted by pacepower on (March 22, 2011, 8:12 GMT)

I think the bowlers were good. But consider each test team played 2 associate nations. Also among the test nations WI, Bang were struggling with their batting. Aussie batting looked shaky to a spirited Pak attack. NZ lacks consistency in their batting. Indian lower order collapsed thrice. SL depends on 2-3 bats man most. Remember they collapsed against kenya from 280-2 to 327-6

Posted by JerryMP on (March 22, 2011, 8:09 GMT)

Excellant Samit. But I feel a mention of Ray Price should have been done. He had an economy of 3.44 from 6 matches which was the best. Considering that he was playing for a minnow this is really great. Plus he took 9 wickets. Hats off to you. Sorry that you represent Zim and not with any other strong team

Posted by ms.arjun on (March 22, 2011, 8:04 GMT)

Its been a bowlers wc for sure certainly for one man, Munaf Patel. Such an energetic and electrifying person on the field!!!

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 7:51 GMT)

This World Cup has shown how T20 could destroy good batting skills. The batsmen lack conventional cricketing shots. They are trying to swing the blade as they want resulting in big collapses. Additionally, teams have selected many of such blade swingers which is really a shame.

Posted by Amu123 on (March 22, 2011, 7:50 GMT)

the real reason why this world cup has been exciting is whatever majority of people expected has not come true, for an example pakistan was not expected to lead group A but they have done,, india were expected win group B but did not.... so same thing goes in the semifinals,,,, whatever majority is expecting is not going to happen.... which implies that India are not going to win,,, if australia overcomes india in the QF, then they would have a chance,,,, but the ideal final (at current form) is SA & Pakistan....

Posted by cric_fanatics on (March 22, 2011, 7:46 GMT)

pakistan has surprised everyone by defeating overcome a 10-0 humiliation is very difficult usually....

Posted by deepakjm on (March 22, 2011, 7:35 GMT)

I agree with Fiqbal that reason for bowlers making big mark in this world cup is helped by some headless batting.

Posted by Zubair on (March 22, 2011, 7:30 GMT)

@Maksweety, no disrespect to Zaheer Khan, For me Gul has been the better bowler regardless of the type of pitches both the bowlers have played at! Zaheer Khan has taken wickets, at crucial times and has been economical, so is Gul, but the only difference between these 2 is that Gul's wicket tally has more higher order batsmen then Zaheer Khan, Zaheer Khan has taken more lower order wickets! But again, Zaheer has been instrumental for India And Gul has been the same for Pakistan! Cheers for both of them!

Posted by NALINWIJ on (March 22, 2011, 7:27 GMT)

Excellent article and I agree that SA,SL,AUS and PAK [apart from 5 fatal overs against NZ] have bowled well. The Pakistan"s achievement is made even more remarkable as the bowlers were not helped by fielders with Kamran as the chief culprit.Other 3 have fielded as well as expected.The difficulty with powerplays suggest that the batsmen need time to get used to.Apart from some flat tracks in India and pedestrian attacks by minnows the world cup is a fair contest between bat and ball. This will only make the business end to the world cup exciting. I was getting bored with inane 20/20.

Posted by Tumo on (March 22, 2011, 7:07 GMT)

@Deepgar - not having any of that mate, Dale Steyn is by far and away the best quick in the world. Gul, Zak, Anderson (not in ODI's though, he's been dreadful this year!), Morkel, Broad, Johnson, Malinga, Southee, Roach are all very good, and the last 2 have the potential to be great, but there is only one world class seamer still playing right now and that is Dale Willem Steyn.

Posted by AndyZaltzmannsHair on (March 22, 2011, 7:04 GMT)

Top 3 bowlers in this competition so far have been Pakistani. Shahid Afridi, Umar Gul and..... Imran Tahir. Yep that makes 3 Pakistanis by my reckoning.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 6:41 GMT)

India s zaheer khan is the best quick in the tournament consider his 15 wickets so far and his burden in the team hey is the best quickie in the world and as for umar gul hey is good but never equal in the group of brett lee or shane bond or akthar or wasim on being an impact bowler

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 6:26 GMT)

finaly a world cup that has been exciting.apart from the 1st week, all the matches had some spice...the matches going down the wire has made the tournament a great experience..the pitches on offer has been a relief as we can see the bowlers smiling again...may the best Team win......

Posted by Deepkar on (March 22, 2011, 6:24 GMT)

No disrespect to gul but best quick in world cup is zak he took wickets and didnt gave runs away without support from other end. against england his spell in powerplay was best 3-0-11-3 it brought india back in game almost snach Win from jaws of defate.

Posted by salehafaisalpal on (March 22, 2011, 6:11 GMT)

beautifully carved article about current WC..well done sambit

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 6:06 GMT)

"It boggles the mind that a man who can show such intelligence with the ball can be so headless with the bat"

very well said about AFRIDI :)) and a very good article giving the exact picture of the tournament so far.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 6:00 GMT)

There is a reason why this event has been the bowlers game. There are only two teams that fancy a magnificent batting line up - India and SA. Other teams are struggling with their batting. Australian batting is out of form. Pakistan have always looked shaky when it comes to bat. WI is hopeless. Srilanka heavily depend on their two obvious batsmen. NewZealand has no batting. England is unpredictable. Its only India that bats well and deep and hence been able to put up a high score whenever they had chance. SA has also better but I still rate them behind India on subcontinent wickets. And we should not forget that most teams do not play well against spin attack and it is expected that with less than mediocre batting these teams are bound to struggle on turning wickets. One of the finest examples of true batting masterpiece is how sehwag and sachin crushed the best bowling attack in the world cup. This makes me feel that India has a bright chance even though they have weak bowling attack.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 5:57 GMT)

lets see in few days how this fever would more grow up...I wanna say that HIP HIP HURRY best of luck to INDIA to bring the glory back as we were close in 2003

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 5:51 GMT)

Again an attempt to glorify a world cup which has been short of meaningful matches.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 5:37 GMT)

A really beautifully put article, especially Sabmit's praise of a Pakistani Bowling attack has taken me by surprise. Well done Sambit

Posted by venkatesh018 on (March 22, 2011, 5:32 GMT)

Sambit, mention must also be made of the UDRS. It has made the matches more interesting, and it has made the game more fairer for the bowlers. UDRS in all future ICC tournaments is the way to go.

Posted by fiqbal on (March 22, 2011, 5:26 GMT)

Excellent article. I think batting has not been up to the mark due to 20/20 style attitudue. I still feel 50 overs match exposes strengths/weeknesses of a team whilst test match is "true test" of skill & stemina.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 5:25 GMT)

Was just checking out the Rankings. The ICC ratings are a joke. None of Afridi and Gul are in the top 10.. lesser players are above them. wow

Posted by siddhant328 on (March 22, 2011, 5:22 GMT)

A total of 653 runs for just 13 wickets were piled in the opening game between India n Bangladesh, indicant of something deadly to be followed in next 5-6 weeks...and to recall that Oh !!! the World Cup is scheduled in subcontinent - a merciless spot for deliverers, was pretty sufficient to reduce my passion to watch cricket by not less than 5%. An admirer of the kind of pitches, which equivalently support batsmen, pacers and spinners, I use to appreciate classy or hard hitting but at the same time nothing is better to watch than a speed-gun alike pacer crashing the stumps or dancing men with 38 inch timber in front of turning SG / Kookaburra or the joy of fielders holding a catch or desperate batsmen moving back to pavilion. The World Cup came back superbly since then and despite some foreign comments kicking badly on traditional subcontinent pitches in Cricinfo Chatterbox, I feel that bowlers are pretty satisfied by their outcomes in this tournament. Nice analysis Sambit !!!

Posted by muzdawg on (March 22, 2011, 5:06 GMT)

Isn't 4.21 runs per over better than 4.31 runs per over?

Posted by KiwiRocker- on (March 22, 2011, 5:05 GMT)

Pakistan has made a mockery of ICC rankings. ICC rankings are flawed and have lulled poor Indian fans to a fantacy land- India's WC is about to end in QF!

Posted by KapilVijan on (March 22, 2011, 5:04 GMT)

That's good for the game of Cricket. Otherwise, who would have spared a thought for bowlers in age of T20 that too on sub-continent wickets. Rather surprisingly this time, except India most of non-Asian teams have started counting a lot on their spinners. Who would imagine i.e. South Africa would open the bowling with a spinner?

Posted by sundhar_s on (March 22, 2011, 4:54 GMT)

Definitely true.. Its a bowlers' WC so far.. Going by this theory, I feel India will crash out sooner or later, unless Bhajji n Ashwin make some magic with the ball and Munaf is dropped..

Posted by Shaneb20041985 on (March 22, 2011, 4:50 GMT)

Great article. South Africa's economy rate is all the more impressive considering they played none of their games in Sri Lanka where the pitches are more bowler-friendly (as seen from the other Group B teams languishing at the bottom of the run-rate table)

just a few issues: 1. The bowlers' economy rate table is missing all the SL players 2. Pakistan's economy rate has a typo. it should be 4.36 and not 4.21

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 4:46 GMT)

I think T20 has give3n bowlers the edge theyve been missing over the years...

Posted by maksweety on (March 22, 2011, 4:28 GMT)

Sambit: You can't compare apples and oranges. SL and Pak have played all of their matches except one in SL where the pitches have been completely different then in most venues in India.................India and England have played all their matches on Indian flatbeds (except Chennai) and hence the higher economy. Umar Gul has been really excellent but I would argue that Zaheer Khan has been better just because he is bowling on mostly batting pitches (and both have identical stats).

Posted by   on (March 22, 2011, 4:25 GMT)

one of the reasons it has been more of a bowlers' World Cup is the usage of the DRS - more wickets are falling than otherwise would have

Posted by Jan on (March 22, 2011, 4:18 GMT)

Nicely written and nice round up of what happened so far. Bowlers were really good on all type of pitches and the tournament is heading for much better games where both batsmen and bowlers have to perform.

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Sambit BalClose
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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