As the first week of the World Cup draws to a close, some presuppositions have already bitten the dust. The inability of associate members to compete with established teams for one; for another, the success of slow bowlers on pitches that are generally known to assist pace bowlers.
One is an administrative challenge confronting the International Cricket Council at a macro level. All said and done, cricket is still played by very, very few countries. How can the gospel of the sport be spread to make it more robust going ahead?
The other aspect is cricketing, and at a micro level pertaining to this specific tournament where it was thought that spin bowlers might be redundant, given not just the nature of pitches, but also the cruelty of modern bats and a T20-inpired, more adventurous approach by batsmen.
Both these issues are of far-reaching consequences, but let's first look at how cricket can grow from where it stands today.
Ireland's stunning victory over West Indies was a reminder of how the gap between the so-called minnows and major sides is narrowing rapidly. The close contest between UAE and Zimbabwe on Thursday was a reminder to the fancied sides that no opponent can be taken for granted.
Ireland, of course, have been sharply vocal about their ambitions. As several of their players have said, they don't like the tag of minnows. What they would certainly like is more international exposure against established teams.
It hardly needs explaining that playing standards of players and team improve if you compete against superior opposition. If associate countries, as mentioned in an earlier blog, are condemned to play only their peers, progress would be so tardy as to be inconsequential.
One of the ways in which the structure of the sport can be made more dynamic is to not have a class system as prevails now where full members of the ICC get privileges that they may not be deserving of, while associate members have little choice but to languish.
So what can be done? Creating a multi-tiered system seems an obvious solution. If there are two tiers, the bottom two teams from the top tier are relegated and the top two from the lower one promoted for major ICC tournaments.
This is practiced in domestic cricket in many countries and is a no-brainer. Interestingly, former England captain Michael Vaughan goes a step further if I've read his tweets on the issue correctly. Vaughan thinks that there should be three tiers!
This will not only help in improving the standard of cricket, but will also compel an expansion of the global footprint of the sport. The former England captain also believes that the United States and China should be prime and immediate targets of the ICC for this. I couldn't agree more.
But all that is in the future, and depends entirely on the vision of the game's minders. Where spin bowling is concerned, it is of more immediate relevance: indeed, it could make the difference between winning (or not) World Cup 2015.
Ever since Australia and New Zealand were decided as joint hosts for this edition of the World Cup, it was widely argued that teams which did not have--or could not cobble together--a formidable pace attack would suffer. Facts and figures of the 1991-92 tournament played in these two countries have been touted as strong indicators.
I'm not entirely convinced that this argument holds true though. True, pace and swing bowlers have made a big impact: Steve Finn, Mitch Marsh, Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Sohail Khan and Mohammed Shami have all had splendid matches (or two). But their success hasn't made spin bowlers redundant.
Indeed, Dan Vettori (New Zealand), R Ashwin (India), Imran Tahir (South Africa) and Mahmadullah and Sakib-al-Hasan (Bangladesh) have actually played as crucial a role as the fast bowlers in their respective teams though they may not have the same number of wickets to boast of.
The canny Vettori has held batsmen on a tight leash, including the Sri Lankans who are adept at playing spin. Ditto Ashwin, who in fact bowled a few maiden overs to choke the Pakistan run chase. And leg spinner Imran Tahir was a bigger threat--and more successful--than the dreaded pace duo of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in their hard-fought win over Zimbabwe.
The threat that bats that are as thick as tree trunks and the adventurousness provoked by T20 cricket in batsmen would spell the death of spin bowling even in ODIs and Tests is proving to have been overblown, going by the first few days of this tournament.
Larger grounds where even mishits don't clear the fence are obviously of help. But even more so, captains who repose faith in spinners and give them attacking fields to take wickets, not just defensive ones to prevent runs from being scored.
After that, the survival instinct of spinners is good enough to instigate the ingenuity to succeed. My hunch is that the list of high top 10 wicket-takers in this World Cup will feature at least 3-4 spinners.
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