When the 2015 World Cup began, it was expected that spinners would struggle a bit to make the same sort of impact that they had in 2011. Then, the conditions in the subcontinent, along with the use of only one new ball in an innings, made it ideal for spinners to have a huge impact on the tournament. They bowled 47% of the total overs, and it wasn't unusual to see a spinner open the bowling and bowl within the first ten overs.
In the first 26 games of the 2015 tournament, the spin contribution has gone largely according to the script. Imran Tahir, Daniel Vettori and R Ashwin have shown that skillful spinners still have a place in ODIs regardless of the rules and the conditions, but they - and a handful of others - have been the exceptions. Among the 35 bowlers who've taken five or more wickets in the tournament so far, only four are spinners, of which one is Chris Gayle. The other three - Tahir, Vettori and Ashwin - have all been exceptional, and are among the 13 bowlers to have taken 13 or more wickets. They have outstanding averages and economy rates too: Ashwin has eight wickets conceding 13.37 runs per wicket and 3.82 per over; for Vettori the corresponding numbers are 14.75 and 3.33, while Tahir's average has been 19.88 and economy rate 4.47.
The stats for Vettori and Ashwin are among the best for any bowler so far in this competition, but most of the other top slots are filled by the fast bowlers. The four leading wicket-takers are Tim Southee, Josh Davey, Mitchell Starc and Trent Boult, while others like Sohail Khan, Wahab Riaz, Kyle Abbott, Mohammed Shami, Hamid Hasan, Tendai Chatara and a few others have all had at least memorable bowling performance.
In the tournament so far, spinners have averaged more than 43 runs per wicket, which is the worst in a World Cup since 1979, when they averaged 65.25. It's marginally poorer than the 1999 tournament, when they averaged 40.71 per wicket. Their contribution in terms of overs has come down from 47% in 2011 to 33%, while the economy rate has gone up to 5.25, a 14% jump from the rate of 4.60 in 2011. (For fast bowlers, the increase has been 10%.)
The last time the tournament was hosted by Australia and New Zealand - in 1992 - spinners had averaged 35.29, at an economy rate of 4.16. The economy rate has increased by 25% for spinners and 35% for fast bowlers, but while the averages for fast bowlers has remained almost the same, for spin the average has gone up too.
The spinners have done a reasonable job of keeping the runs in check in the middle overs, going at 4.82 runs an over between the 11th and 35th, but they've made almost no contribution in the first ten, which isn't surprising considering that there is a new ball from each end this time. The 26th match of the tournament, between Bangladesh and Scotland, provided the first instance of a spinner taking one of the new balls when Shakib Al Hasan bowled the second over of Scotland's innings. In the entire tournament only 16 overs have been bowled within the first ten by spinners, of which Shakib has bowled four, while Vettori and Andy McBrine have bowled two each. Eleven of those 16 overs have been bowled in New Zealand, and only five in Australia.
In the 2011 World Cup, spinners bowled 22% of the total overs that were bowled in the first ten of an innings, and took 25% of the total wickets that fell in the first ten (wickets that fell to bowlers only). In the first ten, they averaged 25.18 runs per wicket and 3.78 per over, for their 32 wickets, while the quick bowlers averaged 38.56 at an economy rate of 4.81. This time, spinners have had a minimal role to play in the first ten overs, and are still searching for their first wicket in that period.
Most of the bowling for spinners has been in the middle overs, between the 11th and the 35th. During this period, they've had an equal share of the overs with the fast bowlers, and have gone at less than five runs per over, though they haven't taken as many wickets as the faster bowlers. In the last 15, they bowled 25% of the overs and gone at less than seven-and-a-half runs per over, which isn't bad considering the rate at which batsmen have generally scored their runs during this period.
Compared to the games in Australia, spinners have had more success in New Zealand so far, taking more wickets at a much better average and economy rate. In Australia, spinners have conceded more than 50 runs per wicket, and have gone at 5.62 per over. The bigger grounds clearly haven't helped them get more wickets or keep the runs in check. In Australia, the fast bowlers have averaged 30 while achieving an economy rate similar to that of the spinners. In the 1992 World Cup, which was also hosted by Australia and New Zealand, there was hardly any difference in averages for spinners in Australia and New Zealand - they averaged 36 in Australia and 34 in New Zealand.
A couple of weeks before the World Cup began, the Numbers Game column had suggested that Australia is the toughest country for spinners to get wickets in. Barring a few exceptions, the stats in the tournament so far seem to be corroborating that theory.