Friday, 27 March 2015

Column 7, 2015 – Bowling in a rigged game

Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 110, Friday March 27, 2015.
[Full text below]

One of the game’s favourite clichés has recently been pulled from the dusty recesses of the pavilion to have the cobwebs brushed off it once again. It remains as true today as it ever was: the balance between bat and ball.

The recurring critique this month has been that the ODI playing conditions have tipped too far in favour of the bat. The three usual suspects hauled up to face the punditry committee are: “bats these days”; the rule change allowing only four fielders outside the circle; and a new ball from both ends.

The ongoing “bats these days” brouhaha deserves a column of its own, so let’s come back to that later. The other two are hard to argue with.

The four-men-out experiment has made the whole concept of defence, especially at the death, almost redundant. So much so, that even the ICC may have noticed, and there’s a reasonable chance we’ll see it revert back to five after the World Cup.

I’d love to see a return to the solitary ball, and with it the potential for fun stuff like sharp spin and reverse swing, but as it’s apparently beyond the wit of man to make a white ball that stays white for 50 overs, we’re probably stuck with two.

So as it stands the balance does seem skewed. All the more remarkable then, that despite the game being rigged against them, the cream of the world’s fast bowlers have put on quite a show.

Two thirds of Australia’s Mitchell triumvirate, Marsh and Johnson, have been quiet, but Starc has been excellent, as fine an exponent as you’ll see of the blisteringly fast late swinging yorker. New Zealand’s new ball (each) pair of Southee and Boult have also been exceptional. But for me it was two subcontinental quicks who have so far provided the best edge-of-the-seat moments.

The top “Hello, here comes the upset!” contender came courtesy of the tournament’s surprise package, the 90 mph Bangladeshi quick with cheekbones you could open letters with, Rubel Hossain. Fresh from gleefully sealing England’s early fate, when he tempted Kholi into a waft outside off-stump in the quarter-final against India, those Douglas Fairbanks matinee idol features were transformed by a primal war cry and, just for a moment, it all looked possible.

There was one spell though, that will outlive the tournament, just as the Donald vs Atherton encounter at Lord’s lives on in the memory, long after the series it was part of has faded. The brutal six over assault from Wahib Riaz in Pakistan’s quarter-final against Australia rendered such trifles as two new balls and four-men-out utterly irrelevant. The working-over he gave Watson was so comprehensive, so masterful, delivered with such tightly reined ferocity, that for those 20 minutes, the balance did indeed look skewed – the other way.

But then Rahat Ali shelled the hard-won top edge, the moment passed, the spell was broken, and the bat was back on top.

- ends 492 words -

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