September 23, 2012

Quicks throw open the tournament

The surprisingly positive response of the Sri Lankan pitches to fast bowling has given nearly every top team a chance at the World Twenty20

The first week of the World Twenty20 has resembled a couple of young lovers on a getting-to-know-you date - a lot of foreplay but not much action. Despite this, two points have been clearly made: the ICC has to rethink it's "minnow match" strategy, and fast bowlers are going to play a bigger part in deciding the champion than was originally thought.

The ICC regularly works on clearing the minnows early, but it makes for a slow start to any tournament. It doesn't send the message to the viewing public that this tournament is a vibrant and competitive affair. It's okay to open the tournament with the hosts playing a minnow - the last thing you want is the locals feeling their team is on the way to a quick exit - but the ICC needs to programme at least a couple of marquee match-ups in the first half a dozen games. It has taken a few days for the tournament to gain a feel of anything but a series of lopsided matches.

The pitches at the Premadasa and in Pallekele have shown some life and bounce, suggesting this won't just become a battle of the teams that bowl and play spin best. The good spinners will definitely play a role, but it's more likely to be complementary rather than starring.

This is not necessarily good news for India, who are struggling to unearth quality quick bowlers. They still have an explosive batting line-up that can destroy anything less than the best bowling, but how they cope with short-pitched deliveries is more likely to determine their progress in the tournament. The former top-class West Indies fast bowler Andy Roberts once summed up the destructive powers of their four quicks by saying: "Whatever the opposition bowl us out for, we'll bowl them out for less." India might have to adopt the opposite approach in this tournament: "No matter how many runs the opposition make, we'll score more."

For South Africa, who have retained two prongs of their menacing three-headed Test pace attack, the sight of bouncy pitches must be as welcome as the first glint of gold in a Transvaal mining shaft. Add Jacques Kallis, who is another pace option, and the cagey spin of Johan Botha and Robin Peterson, plus an aggressive batting line-up, and you have the recipe for attaining precious silverware.

But this is South Africa, the team that misread a Duckworth-Lewis target sheet, the team that forgot to run when a simple single would have got them into a Cup final, the team that seems to lose any match where the word "final" closely follows either "quarter" or "semi". South Africa now have a big chance to erase all those forlorn memories. However, they'll have to do it in a country where the tourist attraction of leopard sightings hasn't yet unearthed one without the familiar spots.

England are another side that will have welcomed the sight of bounce in the pitches. They have some quality pace bowlers and a high-class spinner, and it's just a matter of whether they score enough runs post-Kevin Pietersen to stretch the other contenders.

Australia will also have heaved a sigh of relief after an outing at the Premadasa. Their struggles when facing deceptive spin bowling have been well documented, but these are less likely to be exposed in the prevailing conditions. Nevertheless, they are handicapping themselves as long as they don't include the ultra-aggressive David Hussey in the batting line-up.

West Indies are a highly dangerous combination. Their batting is as explosive as a triggered landmine, and Sunil Narine's spin bowling provides wicket-taking opportunities. In the end they may rue not including the pace-bowling aggression of Kemar Roach on these pitches.

And Pakistan can't be discounted with the destructive pace-spin combination of Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal, but their batting is probably too inconsistent to consistently provide enough runs.

It's shaping up to be one of the most open and intriguing prestige tournaments the ICC has held. It's just a pity it took so long to reach anything resembling a climax.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist

Comments