If the England versus Pakistan One Day Internationals (ODI) series is anything to go by, the International Cricket Council World Cup 2019 (WC19) promises to be a big scoring one. The flat tracks on offer have seen mammoth scoring from both the teams with 373 for 3 wickets, scored by England at Southampton being the highest and Pakistan’s 340 for 7 wickets at Nottingham being the lowest.
If this trend of run-begetting pitches continues till next month, it is certainly going to be a tough ask for a bowler playing the WC19. Unlike in the sub continent, pitches in England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have always had something in them for the bowlers, particularly the pacers and seamers. The English pitches, currently on display, are akin to the high scoring ones in India which give little or nothing to the line and length type of bowlers that thrive on a bit of purchase in the surface.
With batsmen getting their dream pitch to display their wares, the pressure will be on the bowlers. Getting wickets will therefore be a key prerequisite for teams that want to progress in the blue riband tournament. In the three finished ODIs between England and Pakistan, it was only in the third match at Bristol that England managed to get nine wickets.
In the other two games, seven wickets was the maximum that fell while three wickets in the second ODI at Southampton was the lowest so far, as one writes this.
Attacking bowlers, therefore, will play a big role in shaping the outcome for their teams in the WC19, even if they go for a few runs. India, in a scenario such as this, and if the fickle weather in England offers damp tracks and windy conditions, have the right balance in the bowling department to rise up to any challenge.
In Jasprit Bumrah the team has an ideal bowler who can contain and attack, as the situation demands, with the two-faced Mohammed Shami and swing specialist Bhuvneshwar Kumar as able accomplices.
Shami, on a good day, can bowl a brilliant spell but his inconsistency can leave the team wanting. The conditions will decide the bowling combination that will be picked when India face South Africa in their tournament opener. The role of the extra seamer on flat batting tracks, will be very crucial for the team in the middle overs.
Neither Hardik Pandya and Vijay Shankar seem to have the skills to attack and can potentially be sitting ducks for any rampaging batsman. India’s bowling ‘attack’ will therefore rest on the shoulders of the two wrist spinners - Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav who could create openings if the pitches continue to favour batsmen.
Many years ago, one had an encounter with legendary off spinner Erapalli Prasanna who was known for his guile and deception while bowling to best in class batsmen of his era.
When asked how he managed to get batsmen out on flat Indian pitches, the master craftsman said, “We never got helpful tracks and had to plan and think the batsmen out with deception.”
‘Kulcha’as Kuldeep and Chahal are known, have the wares to deceive batsmen with variations in flight and are the best bet for India in the middle overs on pitches that do not offer any purchase.
Unlike finger spinners, the duo who use their wrist should be used purely to attack and get wickets and not to defend by holding one end.
Apart from the attacking option, the presence of two all-rounders will give Kohli more flexibility while batting deep. If the conditions change to help seam bowling, the experience of Ravindra Jadeja, who bowls a tight line and length, with the pacers can prove to be very useful.
One of the biggest advantages that Kapil Dev’s 1983 World Cup winning team had, was the number of all-rounders at their disposal. With Pandya, Shankar and to an extent Kedar Jadhav (more batsmen than bowlers) Kohli may find himself a little short in that space unlike England’s Eoin Morgan who has a complete all-rounder like Ben Stokes at his disposal.
With two pacers, three seamers and three front line spinners, team India seems to have the bowling balance to take on all comers in whatever conditions (sunny, windy or wet) that WC19 has on offer.
It is now up to Kohli and the two wise men — veteran Mahendra Singh Dhoni and coach Ravi Shastri — to figure out and pick the right balance when they step out at Hampshire Bowl to play the Proteas in their first WC19 fixture on June 5....