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World Cup opens with Bumper warfare and short pitched deliveries

Ricky Ponting, Australia’s batting coach, has declared that Australia's World Cup chances will be defined by how well Aaron Finch's team use spin bowling and also bat against it. Australia’s past success was underpinned largely by Starc's furiously fast, hyper-aggressive bowling, with only a namesake spinner in Xavier Doherty, who played only one match in the entire tournament. However, this time around, Adam Zampa and Nathan Lyon loom as key components of the team, while Ponting also pointed out that the proliferation of spin bowlers among the world's leading teams in the past three years have also raised the emphasis on playing spin bowling adroitly. "The thing that will define Australia's success in the World Cup is, one, how well they bowl spin and, two, how well they play it," Ponting said. “With Zampa bowling well now, Nathan Lyon's obviously in the squad and Glenn Maxwell's done a good job with the ball whenever he's played.”

Well the initial phase of the tournament suggest that Ponting’s assessment may be totally incorrect. The amount of short pitched deliveries dished out by the bowlers is beyond what is considered as normal and turn and spin are missing in the pitches. "I've seen more short balls in a week than I've ever seen in past World Cups," gushes Allan Donald, former South Africa pacer and Kent's current assistant coach. During the match against South Africa Kohli was welcomed with three slips and Kohli duly returned the favour preferring the same field when Bumrah was delivering some thunderbolts, Indian skipper Kohli had three slips – a test match like scenario. Bumrah's natural slant is across the left-hander only adds to the damage he is capable of wreaking, and the confidence skipper Virat Kohli has in him, even having three slips after two quicks wickets against the Proteas.

Donald agrees with Kohli. "I think it's almost like Test match mentality where a lot of the times you see two slips, three slips. Even at times a guy back on the hook, we saw a short leg the other day. I just think that everyone has gone in with a fearless attitude... and I've said this years ago, the attitude towards fast bowling has got to change," says Donald.

tournament this was supposed to be the World Cup where 350 was to be the new benchmark. The so-called experts predicted that the wickets will be hard and dry and will be a batting paradise. All the evidence had pointed towards that. However, the top eight wicket-takers all being fast bowlers ten games into the tournament tells you a different story. Only four hundreds have been scored so far and the strike-rates have been rendered unimportant.

Kookaburra is a well-known fact. But the New Zealand fast bowler Trent Boult disagrees. "The ball is actually different for this tournament," Boult said after New Zealand's two wicket win against Bangladesh in another low-scoring match. "They have got a different gloss on them. Or they are painted differently, so I don't know if you have talked about it too much but there has definitely been a little bit more swing. Where the white balls have been quite prominent in that you can see their quarter seams, and everything with the ball but now it is fully covered. It is nice to hold in the hand. It is moving a little bit. Yeah, we are happy."

West Indies have two in the top wicket-takers list so far - Oshane Thomas and Andre Russell. The West Indian bowler’s height plays a major role in extracting the steep bounce troubling the batsmen repeatedly. Their short-ball strategy got Pakistan bundled out for 105, from which other teams learnt and resorted to short pitched deliveries. The West Indies match against Australia was the most exciting in the initial phase of the tournament. West Indies named six tall fast bowlers with no spinners and from the very first ball resorted to fast short pitched bowling. Australian top order, renowned for their ability to play short pitched deliveries well, struggled. Usman Khawaja was an embarrassment after playing almost his entire career in the bouncy wickets of Gabba. He ducked and weaved and got hit badly on the helmet and backed away expecting a bouncer and was caught behind. Glen Maxwell, in his usual style, tried to take on the short-pitched delivery only to spoon to the wicket keeper.

The fast bowlers bowling at speeds touching 150 were able to extract bounce. Particularly bowlers like Bumrah, Rabada and Starc are a real handful for the batsmen. The batsmen are hapless against their unrelenting fast bowling. Statistics reveal that the total percentage of overs bowled by pacers in the inbetween length and shorter (421.2 in total) far overshadows the ones fuller (107.2). West Indies, with their tall high arm action bowlers, have bowled 25.6% of all their pace bowling as bouncers. "The big emphasis now is pace and hunt wickets. That frees bowlers up to just relax and bowl quick," feels Donald.

Even India, in their only game so far, despite having someone like Bhuvneshwar Kumar in their ranks bowled 86.2% of their balls as in-between or shorter. There's no doubt that the man leading the way there was Jasprit Bumrah. It was something that Kohli alluded to after the game, calling Bumrah good enough to be nicking batsmen off from 'Test match lengths' as he called it.

But again, the current crop of batsmen makes the shortpitched bowling threatening due to inadequacy in their techniques. Watching the first week of tournament there were calls in India for Pujara and Rahane to join the squad for their ability to play swing and short deliveries. Most of the batsmen who have changed their batting styles to suit T20 version are struggling now. The Data analysis plays a huge part and all the teams are going through the analytics. The West Indian fast bowlers are all from Jamaica: Oshane Thomas, Sheldon Cottrell and Andre Russell. The three of them reduced Pakistan to 62-4 (to be dismissed for 105) and Australia to 38-4. It is doubtful whether any previous World Cup has seen such aggressive short-pitched fast bowling. Ball-tracking data only goes back as far as the 2007 World Cup, but it is safe to say this tournament has seen a higher percentage of short balls (45 per cent) - pitching more than eight metres short of the batsman’s stumps - than in the previous three tournaments.

As we are all aware, English weather can be fickle. It is still early stages in the tournament. There is chillness in the air and the wickets are fresh. The incessant rain provides the weather for grass to grow. When real summer (if there is one!!) comes the pitches may become dry. That is when this World cup will be defined.

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