Slow bowlers could hold the key

IN AN open World T20, with matchwinners strewn around like flowers on a tree in bloom, there is one factor that could well cast its influence over the entire tournament.

In shorter games, the pitch tends to play a relatively smaller role but I believe the propensity of the tracks to spin, or otherwise, will be the single biggest factor at the World T20.

If pitches are dry, if the ball grips and turns, and 140-150 become very good scores, it will be interesting to see how teams stack up.

India will probably benefit the most because Ravichander Ashwin is in the form of his life, and with Ravindra Jadeja, they can bank eight overs. But M.S. Dhoni will be able to call upon two or three more from Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina and, if it comes to that, can play Pawan Negi as well (though Dhoni is loathe to change too many things!).

More crucially, the batsmen will be better equipped to handle opposition slow bowling than some other teams. With Ashish Nehra and Jasprit Bumrah, and Hardik Pandya as enthusiastic back-up, India could be a force on seaming tracks as well but expecting those at the World T20 is like searching for a turner on Day 1 in New Zealand. It won't happen.

Interestingly the other Asian teams won't be as well placed.

We saw in the Asia Cup that Pakistan is very thin in that area with Shahid Afridi now a support bowler and Mohammad Nawaz appearing to be raw.

For Sri Lanka, Sachithra Senanayake doesn't hold the mysteries he did and while Shehan Jayasuriya and Milinda Siriwardene can pitch in, there won't be a lot of support for Rangana Herath who is a fine cricketer but gives his team only one skill.

Bangladesh could call upon Arafat Sunny to support Shakib al Hasan and while Mohammad Mahmudullah and Nasir Hossain are worthy support cast, their top five bowlers include four seam and swing bowlers in Al Amin Hosain, Mashrafe Murtuza, Taskin Ahmad and Mustafizur Rahman who I expect to become one of the bowlers of the tournament.

England will, strange as it might seem given their history, be reasonably well placed too.

This is due to their investment in Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, both of whom bat reasonably well.

Add the fact that they have a seam bowling all-rounder in Ben Stokes, a back-up spinner in Joe Root and a wicket-keeper in Jos Buttler in the top six and you realise why they have a great balance to their team.

New Zealand might well be defined by the absence of Brendon McCullum but they have Mitchell Santner who can bat, as can Nathan McCullum if it comes to that, and with 2-3 seam bowling all-rounders in the top six might even be able to contemplate playing Ish Sodhi if needed.

I am not sure where Kane Williamson stands with his off-breaks but if he can provide two over support, like Root who he so closely resembles in his basket of offerings, New Zealand might be reasonably placed.

Australia is probably the team that will be affected the worst because they have just one front-line spinner in Adam Zampa, who will surprise many in this tournament.

On a good day, Glenn Maxwell can give them a few overs but Ashton Agar has bowled far too little to be considered a dangerous asset.

Given that their wicket keeper doesn't bat in the top six, playing Agar could mean leaving out James Faulkner or Mitchell Marsh. But there is so much top order batting pedigree there that it could overcome a potential slow bowling weakness.

To some extent that is true of South Africa too but they will struggle to play Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso together because neither bats and with David Wiese and Chris Morris needing to play as all-rounders, they might have to choose between Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada, something they wouldn't want to do.

The West Indies have many seam bowling, big-hitting batsmen but Samuel Badree and Suleiman Benn, their lead spinners, don't bat and that will be a concern.

Sunil Narine will be badly missed.

Of course, the tracks might be flat and it might then come down to bat vs bat but I just have a hunch, the quality of slow bowling will occupy a lot of time at team meetings.

tabla@sph.com.sg


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